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Helen’s seven tips on managing the fear of recurrence

Helen’s cancer came back while she was having treatment. She talks about her fears of it returning again, and gives her tips on managing those concerns.

Helen’s cancer came back while she was having treatment. She talks about her fears of it returning again, and gives her tips on managing those concerns.

I felt shocked when I noticed a change in my breast

On my way home from work, I noticed my right breast was rubbing on the seatbelt. It felt swollen. I’d had a mammogram earlier in the year that was clear, so I was surprised when I noticed something wasn’t right. I went to my doctor straight away and was referred on to the breast clinic. In June 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and told I’d need a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Everything was moving so fast.

I couldn’t speak without crying

After I was diagnosed, I couldn’t speak for a whole day without ending up in tears. When I spoke with friends, family and colleagues, it was devastating to have to say the words ‘I have breast cancer’.

During my treatment I noticed more symptoms

When I was one month into chemotherapy, I noticed little lumps on the skin of my right breast. It turned out to be a local recurrence. Because I noticed and told my doctors so quickly, they could give me the right treatment as soon as possible. I needed radiotherapy, a different chemotherapy, and had the piece of skin removed.

It can be difficult to deal with the fear of recurrence

Because I had a local recurrence during my treatment, my biggest challenge is dealing with the fear of the cancer returning again. Usually, the fear starts with a thought that pops into my head if I’ve got a pain somewhere new. Over time, I’ve found these tips helpful for managing my worries:

1. Be aware of your thoughts

It can help to try and be aware of your thoughts. I’ve learnt to recognise when my mind takes over and when unhelpful thoughts pop into my head.

2. Accept that some days will be better than others

Take one day at a time. I try to accept that some days I’ll feel fine, while other days will be harder, where your mind will convince you something is wrong. It’s normal to have hard days – try not to beat yourself up when this happens.

3. Tell someone how you’re feeling

It can help to tell others you trust about the thoughts in your head. Some days, I’ll talk to my partner. He’s always there to joke with me about my worries and might say them back to me. While it’s different for everyone, sometimes it helps me to have a laugh to get out of a negative mindset.

4. Find support

I’ve got a friend who recommended the counselling she received. I’ve now booked in to speak to a professional about different ways to manage my thoughts and to talk about how I’m feeling. I’m also going to attend Breast Cancer Care’s Moving Forward course.

5. Try self-talk

Sometimes I'll say my thoughts back to myself. I’ll then ask myself how that thought sounds, why I believe it, and if there’s any evidence to back it up. If I’m still worried, I’ll speak to my doctor.

6. Try the ‘one-week’ rule

Another tip I’ve found helpful is to give myself one week if I’m worried about a new niggle or pain. More often than not, the things that worried me never lasted beyond that time.

7. Allow yourself time

While the fear of recurrence might not go away completely, it does get better over time. There may be triggers that make you feel worse, like bad news stories, or when you’ve got scans coming up. Be kind to yourself when that happens. I’ve found that time really is a healer.

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