Coping with prostate cancer recurrence anxiety

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Coping with prostate cancer recurrence anxiety

Every cancer survivor will tell you the fear of a recurrence is always at the back of their mind.  Men who have had prostate cancer and conquered it can still have a nagging unease of their cancer returning at some point.  Every time they see their urologist for an annual PSA check or repeat biopsy, it can be a time of high anxiety also known as recurrence anxiety.

Recurrence anxiety associated with prostate cancer is a normal, natural fear many men may experience.  The cancer process stirs up an unexpected mix of emotions that for men can be unsettling to feel.  As the end of their cancer treatment nears, a man can feel elated and relieved but vulnerable and uncertain what the future holds.  What if it comes back and if it does, will it be even more aggressive?

Living with uncertainty is never easy.  The first year after surviving cancer is usually the hardest.  This is when worry over prostate cancer returning will be the most intense and anxiety levels heightened over every little thing.  Any ache, pain, or something out of the ordinary, will bring a flood of emotions with anxiety skyrocketing as a man mulls over the possibility that his cancer has come back.

They say time heals everything.  This is especially true for men dealing with anxiety over the chance of their prostate cancer returning.  It is important for men to remember that as each week, month, and year goes by with no return of cancer, the anxiety will get better.

No one, not even a man’s doctor, can promise that his prostate cancer won’t return.  This may be of little consolation for men who have had prostate cancer, but a reassuring statistic from the American Cancer Society shows that the 5-year survival rate is 99%.

There are a number of tools any cancer survivor can use to reduce a fear of cancer recurrence and learn how to cope when anxiety strikes:

·       Identity your triggers

Worries over a return of cancer are often prompted or intensified by certain things – the one year anniversary of diagnosis, hearing of a celebrity or friend diagnosed with prostate cancer, having to get a scan or follow-up exams stirring up anxiety.

Triggers for anxiety will be different and unique for each man but recognizing the emotions you are feeling is better than trying to ignore or hide fear.  Talking with a spouse, friend, doctor, or in a support group can help men figure out their reasons behind the fear.  Fear could include having to repeat cancer treatments or losing control over your destiny. 

·       When anxiety strikes, have a plan

Fear of the unknown can occur out of nowhere.  To not let anxiety take over one’s life stifling their activities, men need to have a plan to distract them when fear strikes.  For example, on the one year anniversary of diagnosis, make plans to go on a trip or go to a sporting event.  Tell yourself, you’ve survived one year and you’ll keep surviving year after year.

·       Don’t suffer with anxiety alone

Most men know of other men who have had prostate cancer and very likely felt the same anxiety.  These are men to reach out to, asking them how they dealt with cancer recurrence anxiety.  Joining a prostate cancer support group can be another helpful avenue for some men.   Support groups offer the chance to share feelings and fears with others who understand.  They also allow the exchange of practical information and helpful suggestions as they create a sense of belonging helping survivors feel less alone and more understood.

·       Take time to reduce stress

Practicing stress management is a good idea for everyone but especially for cancer survivors.  Reducing stress naturally leads to reducing anxiety.  When stress and anxiety are reduced, this leads to an overall improvement in the quality of a man’s life.  Stress reduction ideas could include spending time with family and friends, focusing on hobbies, taking walks or increasing physical activity, or watching a funny movie

·       Focus on wellness

Sometimes a prostate cancer diagnosis can be a blessing in disguise.  If good health habits were not part of a man’s life before his diagnosis, now that he has completed treatment, can be an excellent time to keeping himself well.  To enhance overall well-being, choosing health-promoting foods and regular exercise will need to be at the top of his priorities.  Other good health habits men can adopt are getting adequate sleep, losing weight if necessary, and stress management.  Not only will a man feel physically and emotionally better, but he will also gain a sense of control over his life.