When Cancer Returns
When you’ve gone
through surgery and chemotherapy and radiation, the waiting begins. You wait
to see whether the cancer will come back. And there are times when it does,
no matter how positive your attitude, how good your odds were or how hard
It’s common to
have even more intense feelings about a recurrence of your cancer than your
feelings were when you were first diagnosed. When cancer comes back, it feels
more serious. Maybe even scarier than the first time. You may feel even more
angry too, because it’s especially hard to have gone through treatment once
and then to face it again.
People react differently
to living with the knowledge that the cancer has come back. Martha, who currently
has breast cancer that has metastasized (spread) to her hip, says she loses
patience with people easily. She gets angry, she says, when someone compares
a newly diagnosed person’s situation with her own. “Having advanced cancer
is nothing like when your cancer is new,” she says. “People don’t understand
the difference. They think all cancer is alike, but they have no idea how
much more serious it is for someone in my situation.” That makes her angry,
she says. She’d like it if people would take the time to find out more about
what’s going on with her.
like her mother and sister to take more interest. “I’ve asked my sister to
subscribe to a message board I read all the time. It’s for women whose breast
cancer has metastasized. I want her to learn about the medications I take.
I want her to learn what the side effects are. It would mean so much to me
if she would take that initiative. But she just says, ‘Oh Marth, I don’t have
time. You read it and tell me about the things that are important.’ She doesn’t
get it! I want her to make the effort,” says Martha.
Her mother frustrates
her even more. “She acts like she doesn’t want to know anything about what
I’m going through,” says Martha. “It’s like she completely ignores it. It
feels so cold!”
that her mother and sister may react this way because they don’t want to face
reality. No mother wants to consider the idea that she could lose her daughter
to cancer. But that doesn’t make it any easier for Martha. “I don’t care if
it’s hard for her,” she says. “It’s hard for me too!”
Although her cancer
has spread, Martha is doing well in her day-to-day life. She has some hip
pain, but it’s tolerable, she says. She takes chemotherapy in pill form. She
works four days per week, although she says she’s very tired at the end of
the day. And she’s packing as much enjoyment into her life as she possibly
can. She’s going on a cruise in Alaska with her adult son this summer. She
took a trip to Spain
last year. “I need to cram everything in now,”
she says. “I hope I don’t have any money left when I die.”
advantage of the resources around you
If you’ve experienced
a recurrence of your cancer, nobody can tell you exactly how you should respond.
Anger is normal. Fear is normal. There’s no right or wrong emotion. But there
are some steps you might want to take to help yourself during this time:
joining a support group, if you haven’t already. Now more than ever, it’s
nice to be with people who understand exactly what you’re going through.
there are issues that are bothering you and you can’t seem to resolve them
on your own, consider talking with a therapist.
a member of your healthcare team to recommend helpful books about living
with a recurrence of cancer. These can provide practical advice about treatment,
side effects, dealing with family members and other coping mechanisms.
American Cancer Society; Breast Cancer Resource Guide of Connecticut; Personal Interview, “Martha”; National Cancer Institute