Fear of Relapse or Second Cancer

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2018

Once you’ve had a diagnosis of blood cancer (or any kind of cancer), there is a chance of the cancer returning after treatment is complete, also called recurrence. In blood cancer, a return of the original kind of cancer after a time of remission (where the disease is undetectable) is also referred to as a relapse.1 The fear of cancer returning is one of the most persistent and distracting aspects that cancer survivors have to face. Individuals with blood cancer may also develop a second cancer, which happens when the patient develops a different type of cancer that is unrelated to their first blood cancer.

For many cancer survivors, the fear or anxiety of a recurrence is more intense at certain times, like anniversaries of diagnosis, the time just before a follow-up appointment, or when a new symptom appears in the body (which may or may not be related to cancer). This fear is normal and understandable. It may be helpful to recognize that having a fear reaction is expected. Although you can’t control or stop your feelings, you can control how much your fear impacts your life.1,2

Strategies for coping with the fear of relapse or recurrence

Emotions are our bodies way of processing information, and fear is a natural reaction to a situation like having had cancer. Some strategies for dealing with the fear of blood cancer relapse or recurrence include:

  • Recognize the fear. Acknowledge what you’re feeling and give it some space. While it may be tempting to push uncomfortable emotions like fear away, ignoring them can make them persist or get even worse. Find a way to talk about what you’re feeling.
  • Get support by talking with a friend, a support group, a counselor, or even writing about it in your journal. Shining light on your fear can help keep it from being overwhelming, and finding others who understand and also cope with the same fear can provide you with camaraderie and helpful suggestions on how they handle it.
  • Keep up with recommended follow-up appointments with your doctor. These follow-up appointments may be every month or two just after treatment is completed, and with time, the follow-up appointments may become less frequent. Talk with your doctor about your recommended appointment schedule, as well as what signs or symptoms to bring to their attention.
  • Take excellent care of yourself. Making healthy choices on diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management, as well as avoiding tobacco use, can help improve your overall well-being and strengthen your immune system.
  • Change your focus. Experts say our brains can’t focus on fear and gratitude at the same time, so shifting your attention to all that you are grateful for can help ease your fear.
  • Try mind-body techniques for stress relief. Many of the complementary therapies like meditation, massage, acupuncture, Tai Chi, or Qigong can help reduce stress and anxiety. Regular exercise can also help relieve stress (check with your doctor if you have an exercise restriction).2

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