Being diagnosed with and having treatment for cancer as a young person is often the most traumatic event in a person’s life. You are forced to confront your mortality at a time when your peers are living it up and enjoying life. This is why one of the hardest things to deal with post-treatment for breast cancer is fear of the cancer returning. Most young women have regular follow-up with their oncologist quite frequently in the first 2 years which can be reassuring for some, and anxiety-provoking for others.

You may find yourself asking questions like, what if it comes back? What if I have to go through chemo again? What if I have to lose my hair or my dignity one more time? What if the cancer has spread or the doctor misses it?

Luckily there is quite a bit of work being done in the psychosocial oncology community that addresses fear of recurrence. Practitioners and allied health professionals are doing research and creating programs to address the fear and anxiety that can come well after cancer has been treated, when you’re hoping to get that magic acronym ‘NED’ (no evidence of disease!).

Below are some easy tips from Dr. Mary Elliot, a Psychologist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Psychosocial Oncology + Palliative Care.

The Five E’s of Mindfulness!

Empower yourself using these 3 easy tools in your back pocket to deal with fear:

    1. Three deep breaths: that is all it takes to regulate from sympathetic (fear driven system) to the para-sympathetic (non-adrenaline driven) mode.

2. Use S.T.O.P.

  • Stop
  • Take a breath
  • Observe your feelings, body sensations and thoughts
  • Proceed with presence

3. Have self compassion: Practice putting your hand on your heart and acknowledging how tough it can be to have scary feelings.

Embody:  try not to vacate your body with your thoughts and ground yourself using mountain pose or meditation.

Envite (invite) the fears: Pushing fears away takes a lot of energy.  Avoidance can fuel the fear, so why not try to turn toward it and let it R.A.I.N. (recognize, allow, investigate and naturally be in awareness).

Engage with life: Incline toward joy or beauty. Anywhere, anytime, do a walk and purposefully look for pleasing things –a colour, a leaf, a smell, anything that brings you peace.

Enlist your team:  Of course you are in charge but you don’t have to go it alone. Let family and friends know what you need which may be as simple as being present to listen without prematurely reassuring you. Know that there are also healthcare providers who can provide additional support.

For more support on coping with fear of recurrence visit:

ELLICSR: Health, Wellness, & Cancer Survivorship Centre

Wellspring Healing Journey Program

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