This is the second installment in our Fear of Recurrence series:
My mammogram is due this month. I am usually anxious and fearful each year at this time. The fear is heightened a few days before the mammogram and I try to talk myself through it to manage my feelings and thoughts about all the “what ifs” that run through my mind. There are daily reminders, anniversary dates, doctor check ups, and many emotional, physical and visual cues that trigger the fear of breast cancer returning.
I found my lump by doing self breast exams, diagnosed in 1999 at age 31 with infiltrating ductal carcinoma. I had lumpectomy, lymph node removal, 2 positive nodes, ER/PR +, 2 different types of chemo for a total of 8 treatments, 31 radiation treatments, and oophorectomy. I had 5 years Tamoxifen and now have surpassed 5 years of Femara. I have no family history of breast cancer.
LBBC chose me to share my experiences on fear of recurrence of breast cancer and also to participate on a survivor panel in their writing/editing of a brochure on “Fear of Recurrence” to be published later this summer. If my feelings and experiences can help even one person in a positive way then I am grateful to have shared my personal story.
I have fear of recurrence regularly, especially around mammogram time, after each self breast exam and daily as I take my medications. The fear shows up when my scar tissue pangs with pain or my arm falls asleep due to the nerve damage from the surgeries. The fear visits me when I meet someone else that has been diagnosed. I worry that maybe I did not do enough and it will come back. I worry about death, leaving my children, husband and family too soon and how would I cope with it all over again? What treatments would I need, how would it affect my quality of life and would I be a burden on my family if the cancer came back or was terminal?
When working on the LBBC “Fear of Recurrence” brochure, it brought to the forefront many triggers to my fear of recurrence and I never realized how much I am affected daily. In placing so much focus on my fear, triggers and coping, I realize that I am a a very strong individual. My reflection on my fears and working on the brochure acknowledged my feelings and experiences and validated them as a normal response to facing a life threatening illness. I have learned to “manage” my fears by accepting that I am at risk for recurrence just for having had breast cancer and knowing it would be unrealistic to think I will “never” have recurrence. So, the fear is a given for me, but I feel I have a good grip on it and use positive ways to cope. My fears are much less intense and more infrequent since my diagnosis 11 years ago.
I have many supports in my life including my husband and 2 sons, my family, friends, survivor buddies, and online communities that have supported me over the past 11 years and continue to do so. I believe in the phrase, “knowledge is power,” and coping by reading and researching about breast cancers, recurrence, treatments and current studies have also been helpful in coping with my fears. Talking to my oncologist, primary care doctor and nurses helps me as well.
Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below or on our Facebook page. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series on Friday!