Learning to Live With the Fear of Cancer Recurrence

“Cancer may rob you of that blissful ignorance that once led you to believe that tomorrow stretched forever.  In exchange, you are granted the vision to see each day as precious, a gift to be used wisely and richly.  No one can take that away.”  Anonymous

The question I get asked the most from breast cancer patients going through cancer treatment is:  “Does the fear of recurrence ever get better?”

I have spent quite a lot of time pondering and praying about this question.  For me, the fear of recurrence has not gotten any better.  So how do I give advice to help?

First of all, why wouldn’t any of us that have been through cancer and survived not be afraid?  We have gone through hell and back.  We know what it is like.  It is not something you want to repeat.  So we have been told “you do not have any cancer any more.”  Great news, isn’t it?   But how do you deal with the uninvited guest called FEAR that has moved in with you?

It is like trying to teach that guest not to scream and shout, but to whisper.   You really cannot get them to leave entirely.  This relationship is permanent, so you have to come to some sort of agreement and living arrangement that you can tolerate.  It is your house, after all!   If you try to totally ignore them, they start yelling.  If you acknowledge they are present, they calm down a little.  And if you put your boundaries up and tell them you are in control, not them, the taming process begins.

My FEAR GUEST is always whispering.  During my entire day, I know that FEAR GUEST is around.  Whispering, I can tolerate.  But FEAR GUEST loves to start screaming and shouting the minute I feel a pain, a discomfort, a cough, a headache, or anything unusual in my body.   I don’t even have time to tell them “be quiet” when the incessant chatter begins.  “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah the cancer is back – it is in your bones, your lungs, your liver, your brain – ha ha ha”.  That is what the chant sounds like.   You counter back with,”IT IS NOT!  I am just getting older and am having some aches and pains today.” ” That’s what you think,” the FEAR GUEST screams back.  And so the argument begins.

I am learning I must be the boss and be in control of this FEAR GUEST because if I give them any leeway at all, they take it.  But at the same time, this FEAR GUEST can be a positive force in my life I have recently discovered.

If I am doing the things I need to do to from my end to keep the cancer at bay – proper rest, good nutrition, exercise, and take my medicine, like a good post-cancer patient, the FEAR GUEST tames down.  When I start doing things that are not good for me, the nagging voices begin. “Oh good, you are lazy and eating that sugar!” the FEAR GUEST taunts.

This also applies to relationships as well.  If I surround myself with the people who showed their love and support to me during cancer treatment and gave me the gift of true friendship, the pesky little voice is more subdued.  But if I start making excuses for people who totally abandoned me and think, “Oh, it’s okay to let them back into my life, they didn’t mean to abandon me” the FEAR GUEST starts yelling at me and taunting me.

Sometimes you find yourself telling random people about your FEAR GUEST.  If they have never had to live with a FEAR GUEST they might say things you don’t want to hear.  Words like,”oh put that out of your head” “don’t even think that way”.   Unfortunately, although they mean well, that advice just gives fodder to the FEAR GUEST.  So I am selective talking about FEAR GUEST.

I am learning to pay attention when FEAR GUEST screams the loudest and use it to my advantage.  This is still new to me.  I will keep you updated with my tricks to quiet FEAR GUEST!!  If you have managed to shut up  your FEAR GUEST, please let me know how!



  1. You are SUPER! Everyone of us should read this one. It relates so well with your comments about faith. God really is stronger than FEAR GUEST if you can stop to think of it when you’re in the zone. If you really believe that God is ALWAYS at your back, it becomes more tolerable.

  2. I was diagnosed with tnbc sept of 2011. I did what many of us do. I went right to the Internet and had myself dead and buried. After learning there are different types and became educated I realized the Internet is not the place to receive pertinent information. I had the tumor removed which was quite large only 4 months after my mammogram. My lymph nodes were clear and margins were good. One a little closer than the other areas. I had chemo and 35 treatments of radiation. I was blessed with a wonderful team of doctors. The radiation oncologist was actively researching tnbc. Radiation was done on my chestwall. The last week “boost” was to the tumor area. I continued work throughout my treatment. I left my job because of the stress. I was excited to find a job three days a week. My husband retired from teaching. It would give us more time antiquing and with our daughter and family now I realize the stress of my previous job kept my mind occupied. Now I find myself being home and feeling every twinge. Exactly how you explained it. I have always lived by the what ifs. Have taken medication for OCD. When the doctor told me I had cancer. He looked at me and said. Nancy you have already been through the worst. The loss of my 17 year old son. I am angry with myself for not taking each day for what it is. Me of all people know how life can change in a moment. I will continue to read the uplifting articles. I have a wonderful family. But i am so angry I look for things that could be wrong. I know chemo can have an effect on our bodies I am trying to rationalize all my aches and pains. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Nancy

    • Nancy, I SO MUCH appreciate your story because you have and are living it – and you are honest. Sharing it with others certainly helps.
      Fear is a crazy thing, and I believe it is impossible for anyone to understand what fear of recurrence is like unless
      you have been a cancer patient. And since you have been through so much in your life, the fear is worse.
      Thoughts and prayers go with you….Denise

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