This is the fourth installment in our Fear of Recurrence series, written by Cynthia Kempfer. Please remember that these entries are written by women affected by breast cancer. These are their stories, their thoughts, their emotions. Living Beyond Breast Cancer neither agrees or disagrees with the issues expressed.
I am a happy person. As a volunteer in the SNIP (spay/neuter) clinic at our local humane society, I am known as a steadying influence. I was an elementary teacher, sixth grade mostly, so I have no nerve endings left. I am an intrepid traveler. I’m in good (well reasonable) physical shape. My cancer was just Stage l. I shouldn’t be a Nervous Nelly about recurrence, but I am.
I don’t know if this blog is supposed to be talking people out of their fear of recurrence. I wouldn’t be the person to do that. I understand why people fear it coming back. How can anyone not think about it – a lot! Cancer is scary, it hurts and I don’t think I could do it again. There, I said it.
My story is like everyone’s, I guess. My diagnosis was 3 years ago, one month after I retired. I had a lumpectomy, radiation, chemotherapy and now am taking all the required hormones and being “good.” My life has changed, I have changed, my family has changed. Some of it is good, a lot isn’t and I would like my old self back, my confident, ordinary, same-as-everyone-else self back. I want my family and friends to look at me without assessing how I am “doing.”
Here is my story about fear of recurrence. As I was going through my experience, I listed all the things people should do to keep the cancer from coming back. After I completed chemotherapy and had a little energy back, I heard of a support group that met at the local health club. Since I am into doing everything that is recommended to prevent recurrence, I know that those who go to support groups have fewer recurrences. Good thing to do. So I went. I walked into this nice group of women looking for – I don’t know what for sure. Information, reassurance, support. I was pretty shaky emotionally and just scared by all that had happened to me. They were wonderful and welcoming. I even got a great basket of treats! Then they went around the table, each one telling her story. All of a sudden, I was hearing about second and even third cancers. A lot of them! What was this? I thought that the cancer wasn’t supposed to come back and here where so many women telling of how they were doing so well coping with their new cancers. It shook me to the core. The rosy picture the doctors left me with crashed into the reality of the disease for me. It was going to come back. I went to the car and cried. I didn’t go back to that group, I couldn’t. I didn’t have anything to give these women but my despair. I eventually joined another group and as I became familiar with them I was able to convince them that welcoming a new person with our personal horror stories wasn’t a good idea. It took a while, but that procedure has changed and I have toughened up.
I have used the group to talk about recurrence. There are those who do not even think about their disease coming back. How can this be? I asked them why they are so sure that it is over. They can’t seem to give me a clear reason. I am not letting them off the hook though. I want what they have and I lost…freedom from the fear.
Do you share Cynthia’s emotions? We want to hear from all of you, either here on this blog or on our Facebook Page.