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Mercy Women's Care at St. Anne
3404 W. Sylvania Avenue
Toledo, OH 43623

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Navarre Medical Plaza
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2213 Cherry Street
Toledo, OH 43608

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 you fought.

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.

She's especially 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!”

Martha acknowledges 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.”


Take 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:

  • Consider 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.
  • If there are issues that are bothering you and you can’t seem to resolve them on your own, consider talking with a therapist.
  • Ask 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
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