This is our seventh installment of the Fear of Recurrence series, written by Judith Gallante-Hooper.
When I was first diagnosed, my greatest fear was not of a mastectomy or chemotherapy. As scary as both of those may be, they were a means to getting well. My greatest fear was, and continues to be, that one day this disease would move beyond my breast. I am not one to panic or overreact. So, I tried to weigh the facts about breast cancer and the prognosis based on my stage of the disease. The information about stage, type, grade, lymph nodes, etc. evolved over time and was revealed with each test and surgery.
Some of the news allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief. Some of it made me angry. But, some of the news was vague speculation as to what may happen in the future. Treatment options offered to reduce the risk of recurrence but none could promise 100% prevention of a recurrence. It was the vague answers, due to the variability of women with breast cancer in age, type, stage and genetic predisposition that worry me. As a result, I feel like I am continuously balancing my optimism for staying well with my fear of recurrence.
I am not afraid of cancer developing in the breast on the other side. I may lose a breast, as I did the first time, but I won’t lose my life. A recurrence in another part of my body will have a different outcome. An outcome no one likes to talk about. Co-workers, family, and society in general know breast cancer through survivors. They expect survival. To talk about any other outcome to breast cancer seems heretical.
But, there is a negative outcome for many thousands of women each year. One of those thousands of women was a relative of mine. My cousin’s wife was diagnosed with a recurrence at the same time as my initial diagnosis. As I was being introduced to breast cancer she was facing it for a second time. We were the same age, age facing the same disease, but with different outcomes. Unfortunately, after more than a year and a half of relentless chemotherapy, she did not survive.
So despite a positive prognosis and my belief that I will survive, not only 5 years but 25 years or more, I worry. If breast cancer prevailed despite her age; despite her love for her children and her husband; and despite her desire to live; then what will guarantee that I will survive if she did not? Nothing will. No guarantees! Only facts and faith.
So I try to keep the facts of my disease in perspective. The prognosis for survival for 5 years is very good. I am doing everything that is recommended for follow-up care even when I fear the potential results. Mammograms, ultrasounds, MRIs, or blood work could all reveal a result that will send me back to the turmoil and urgency of 2 years ago. But, I go for the testing anyway and hope for the best. I have faith that the doctors are choosing the best plan of action. I have faith that monitoring my health closely and exercising will keep me healthier longer.
But none the less, I still have difficulty trusting that this disease or one related to it will never enter my life again. So, I try to enjoy every day that I am healthy. I am enjoying my first year without a surgery planned since being diagnosed. The testing, blood work, and follow-up appointments are annoying but now a necessary part of survival. I pray that my fears won’t run my life but, instead, move me in a direction of respecting and enjoying every day of good health that allows me to be a competent mother, wife, friend, and teacher.
What is YOUR greatest fear? We’d like to hear from you. Comment here on this blog or on our Facebook Page.