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Fear of Recurrence

Fear of Recurrence

The fear of recurrence of cancer is the most common long-term effect of any cancer, no matter the type. Almost everyone will think about this at some point in their journey.  These feelings are normal and common. They will likely be strong immediately following treatment and will lessen as time goes by.

I once listened to a webinar on fear of recurrence and particularly enjoyed their analogy of fear of recurrence to a car ride. The patient is the driver and the cancer diagnosis is the passenger. At first cancer is in the front seat with you as you are having your active treatment. But after active treatment ends cancer gets into the back seat and as time goes by you notice that soon it is in the car behind you and you only see it in the rearview mirror. As the days turn into months cancer becomes a speck on the horizon.

However, whenever you have a scan or a doctor’s appointment cancer comes sitting up in the front seat with you again. Other things like a smell, a song, or a picture may also bring it into the front seat with you. Like many things in life it is a cycle that is continuing to revolve.

Here are some tips to help ease this fear.

Acknowledge your fear:

It is important for you to acknowledge these feelings and to talk to someone you trust about these feelings. Hiding these feelings or keeping them in can cause more stress and worrying in the long run. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone write your feelings down in a journal or diary that only you will see. Participate in a support group so that you can talk to other cancer survivors who may be having similar feelings.

Reduce stress:

Do this by spending times with family and friends. Participating in community activities and classes can be helpful. Socializing will help keep your mind busy. Participate in hobbies and other fun activities that you enjoy. This will help you remember the good times and help you make new great memories. Regular exercise and yoga can reduce stress. Getting a massage, doing Reiki therapy, or meditation can help relax you and help control the worrying.

Be well informed:

Knowledge is power. Know what your risk of recurrence is. Talk with your healthcare providers about this possibility. Also ask them what signs or symptoms can mean recurrence. Then report any of these symptoms to your healthcare provider. If you ever are not sure about something, ask.

Follow-up care:

Keep all scheduled follow-up appointments. Write down any questions you have before your appointment. These appointments can cause increased anxiety due to the impending results of tests or scans. It is best not to make any life changing or big decisions around this time because of the increased anxiety. It may be helpful to have a friend or family member go with you to these appointments for support. Ask what further follow-up care will be needed and when.

Make healthy choices:

Eat a healthy diet that is full of fruits and vegetables, whole-grains, low-fat dairy products, low-sugar intake, and cooking with olive oil. Get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly. Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol intake. Making these healthy choices will help fuel your body and reduce your risk for recurrence.

Here to Help

The Nassif Community Cancer Center is here to help with your fear of recurrence. We have two licensed social workers that are available to talk with. We can help to set up counseling for you if needed. We have an exercise specialist for one-on-one exercise and dietitians available to help with any diet concerns. We also offer reduced-cost massage, Healing Energy therapy, and acupuncture.

If you would like to schedule an appointment for these services or would like further information, please call (319) 558-4876. You can also get more information by going to our website at


American Society of Clinical Oncology. (2021) Retrieved from:, January 8, 2021.

Submitted by:

Heather N. Dommer
Survivorship Clinic


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