Heather’s blog: Moving on from the fear of recurrence

April 29, 2014

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I recently had pain on my right side. Not a small pain either; it was excruciating! After having two abdominal surgeries, as part of my treatment for cervical cancer, this type of pain is not completely uncommon or foreign to me. My past five years have been spent making emergency trips to the hospital for abnormal bleeding, ovarian cysts, and phantom pains that have never been diagnosed. These pains have just become part of the reality in my life after cancer.

The problem is, I often struggle about what to do in the moments I am experiencing the discomfort. I never know if I should make a big deal about it, talk to my oncologist, drive to emergency, or just go about life as if they don’t exist. I never know, because so often I feel like everything in life–every ache, every illness, and every emotion–has become about cancer. Sometimes even the smallest things have made me wonder:

“Is this the cancer returning?”
“Do I feel this way because I had cancer?”
“Could the cancer have spread?”

The other day I was reading through some of my old journal entries, and I came across one that I thought articulated these insecurities quite well.

February 21, 2009

Today I feel pissed off about anything, and I am not sure why. I don’t feel like I am angry about having cancer, or that I feel it’s unfair, or why me. I just feel really pissed off and like I want to punch something or someone. That’s the thing though, ever since I was diagnosed EVERYTHING becomes about the cancer. I feel tired–is it because I have cancer? I have a pain in my stomach–is it because I have cancer? I want to cry–is it because I have cancer? I have to pee–is it because I have cancer?

It’s really stupid, I know, because not EVERYTHING is about cancer. I would just like to get to the point where I don’t ask myself that any more. Maybe I’m just angry today because I’ve quit breastfeeding and my hormones are all out of whack. Maybe I am tired because I have a six month old, teething baby who has decided sleeping at night is no longer her thing. Maybe I want to cry because I just finished slicing onions. And maybe, just maybe I have to pee because I drank an entire bottle of water 20 minutes ago. I guess the next question is will anything ever not be about the cancer again?

Five years later, I am still working through this. I have not gotten to the point where I don’t ask myself that anymore. I’m not sure I ever will. I think the fear of recurrence is something that I will continue to struggle with, maybe for the rest of my life. I have, however, learned to better manage the fear, and I no longer feel like everything is about cancer. What I have learned, is that our lives are constantly moving forward, and so it is up to me to move forward with it.

I could quite easily give way to this fear, and allow it to control my path not to move anywhere at all. Instead, I take some advice I heard at Retreat Yourself: I give myself a time limit. I decide to take a minute, an hour, or a day where I immerse myself in these anxieties. I let myself feel whatever it is to its full degree, and I’m gentle with myself; I know that feeling this way is okay. As soon as my time is up though, I tell myself it is time to move on.

It is time to move forward.

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