Leukemia survivor: How I cope with fear of a recurrence
It’s been six years since I was first told that I had no evidence of acute myeloid leukemia. But thoughts about recurrence still pop into my head from time to time. I don’t think they’ll ever completely disappear, but the fear has lessened with time.
Here’s what I’ve learned about coping with these fears since I entered remission.
Be mindful of your thoughts
I remember the first time I came down with the flu a few months after I’d completed my treatment. Even though I knew it was flu season and everyone around me was sick, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d had a relapse, especially since I’d exhibited many of the same symptoms just prior to my leukemia diagnosis. I set up an appointment my family doctor, who prescribed me some medicine and ran bloodwork to make sure my blood counts were fine. And they were indeed OK.
I realized then that I shouldn’t allow a fear of a relapse to consume my mind every time I get sick. Getting sick occasionally is part of life, and if I wanted to resume a normal life, I knew I needed to accept that.
Distract yourself from overwhelming thoughts
One method I used to cope was distraction. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I tried to direct my attention toward something else. For example, in the beginning, I had trouble sleeping many nights. But I found that watching reruns of my favorite comedy shows pulled me back to the present moment and put a smile back on my face.I particularly liked watching episodes I’d already seen because I could fall asleep without wondering how they would end.
Express your fears to someone else
Talking to a professional or loved ones can really help bring comfort. When I first expressed my fears to close friends and family, they told me, “That’s not going to happen again.” I would ask, “And if it does?” and they’d respond, “Well, you’ll just have to kick its butt again.” Those conversations helped me remember that I’ve already beaten leukemia once, and they gave me confidence that everything will be OK even if cancer does come back.
Live in the moment
I’ve also learned that coping with the fear of recurrence requires living in the moment. I really make an effort to enjoy each day a little more and stress less about the smaller things. I constantly remind myself that I need to live my life and be happy that I’m here.
Find a silver lining to your fear
I try not to view my fear of recurrence as purely negative. I use it to motivate myself to lead a healthy lifestyle. I drink a lot more water now, and I eat more fruits and veggies to reduce my risk for cancer and other diseases. Don’t get me wrong, I still indulge in fried foods sometimes, but I now make an extra effort to walk it off.
I’ll admit it: I still get a little anxious before my annual follow-up appointments, even if I feel perfectly fine. But even though the fear of recurrence is something I may never be able to truly erase, it is something I can control. And so can you.
Start by celebrating today, this very moment. Be proud of how far you have come. It takes a lot of strength and courage to get to where you are today, so let what you have gone through be your strength. Fear will pop up, but don’t let it consume you. Talk about it, cry it out over some ice cream or do whatever comforts you. Just make sure to get back up, dust yourself off and know that you’ve got this!