June is cancer survivor month. Being a cancer survivor starts the day you are diagnosed, not when you have finished treatments or are declared free of cancer. While those are great milestones, getting through treatment is quite a feat. What most do not realize is that after treatment is over there is life and how we approach life at that point moving forward is often not addressed or thought about by ourselves, our loved ones, and caregivers. Some factors that affect this are the type and stage of the initial cancer, the treatment you received, and other medical issues you may have.
In talking to my patients, their biggest fear is “will it come back” and this can be a source of great anxiety. Patients deal with this in many ways but getting back to normal life as much as possible is key. This may be as simple as getting out of bed each day to returning to full-time work. Also understanding that for your life surviving cancer may lie somewhere in between these. Patients and families must also give themselves time to find out what is the new normal. Most patients find that as time elapses their fears lessen although certain things can increase their anxiety again such as a follow-up visit or learning that someone they know has cancer or has relapsed. These are very normal feelings that may derail survivorship temporarily.
The other great fear is that of the unknown. Asking the question: is every new ache or symptom a sign that cancer has come back?
So how do you deal with surviving cancer? It is important to stay informed. Ask your doctor what to look for that could be a warning sign. Take control of your health by eating a well-balanced diet and maintaining your weight without being overweight. Expressing your fears with other survivors as in a support group or one on one with a counselor or a close family friend can help you face your fears and overcome them.
Take one day at a time and concentrate on the present and not bad things in the past or the future unless it is to set positive goals. Understanding that you can not control either of these helps reduce anxiety and live life to its fullest extent. Focusing on the joys of life is important and you can recall these during difficult times. Religious faith is very important for some and is a source of great comfort.