Dealing with the Fear of Recurrence

Once you’ve had a diagnosis of skin cancer – whether melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or another type of skin cancer – there is a chance of the cancer recurring. Skin cancer survivors are encouraged to do monthly self-examinations and get regular check-ups with their doctor. Using sunscreen, sun-protective clothing, and avoiding the peak hours of sunlight are also encouraged.

But what about the fear?

The fear of cancer recurring is one of the most persistent and distracting aspects that cancer survivors have to face. In the recent Skin Cancer in America 2017 survey conducted by Health Union, over 900 people with various types of skin cancer shared their experiences and perspectives. Many respondents admitted their experiences with skin cancer have negatively impacted their lives, especially their ability to participate in outdoor activities, their mood or emotions, and their overall quality of life. When asked what aspect of skin cancer is the most frustrating, the most common answer was regarding the fear of cancer recurring. Survey participants were also asked to describe skin cancer in one word, and they most often described the experience as scary, ugly, and deadly.

The importance of faith, attitude, and taking precautions

Despite living with the constant fear of recurrence, the majority of survey participants recognized their attitude plays a significant factor in their quality of life. In addition, most people who have had skin cancer said they find comfort in their faith. Spirituality can take many forms and can be a balm for worried minds.

The Skin Cancer in America 2017 survey also demonstrated that after diagnosis, people with skin cancer are much more involved in taking precautionary measures, including regular doctor visits, performing self-checks, using sunscreen or sun-protective clothing, and avoiding sun exposure. These actions can also help ease the fear of recurrence as you take control of the things you can.

Strategies for coping with fear

Even though people with skin cancer take the necessary actions to prevent and find any skin changes early, the fear can persist. Emotions are our bodies way of processing information, and fear is a natural reaction to a scary situation like skin cancer. Some strategies for dealing with the fear of skin cancer recurrence include:

  • Recognize the fear. Acknowledge what you’re feeling and give it some space. Keeping emotions like fear locked inside can make them persist or get bigger.
  • Get support by talking with a friend, a support group, a counselor, or even writing about it in your journal. Shining light on your fear keeps it from being overwhelming.
  • Engage in regular self-examinations. Check your body once a month, looking for the ABCDE signs (Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, and Evolving).1
  • Change your focus. Experts say our brains can’t focus on fear and gratitude at the same time, so shifting your attention to all that you are grateful for can help ease your fear.
  • Try mind-body techniques for stress relief. Many of the complementary therapies like meditation, massage, acupuncture Tai Chi, or Qigong can help reduce stress and anxiety.

About the survey

The Skin Cancer in America 2017 survey fielded by Health Union gathered data from over 900 individuals with skin cancer. The data depicted the often emotional and varied treatment journey people with skin cancer face, as well as the ongoing effects of skin cancer on their lives.

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