Starting the year free of fear - News & Updates • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

Starting the year free of fear

Starting the year free of fear

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

- Victor Frankel
Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist

Cancer takes so much from people. Learning how to respond to it in a way that will help you move forward is a challenging concept to understand and deal with, especially when you’re living with uncertainty.

Frankel, who survived the Holocaust, suggests great power lies in how we choose to respond to a situation and he’s right, although following through can be rough.

Fear of recurrence can take many forms – you might feel anxious or down; hopeless – as if you know your treatment isn’t going to work and you’ll have to go through it all over again; worried about the impact your struggle is having on your friends and whanau, especially your children; you may even find yourself visiting your GP more often, or avoiding them entirely in case of bad news.

For some the fear hits at the moment of diagnosis, for others, it doesn’t creep in until after their treatment has ended or at their first mammogram since diagnosis. It could even be triggered by someone else’s story or the illness of a family member.

Time is a healer for many, but this isn’t the case for all.

One of the most empowering ways to cope is to accept that everything you are feeling is valid and that your adjustment to this new reality probably won’t be linear. Expect to feel a sense of grief at losing the carefree period of your life you never realised you had, anticipate feeling sad some days and stressed or overwhelmed on others.

Acknowledging how you’re honestly feeling and going with that flow is part of your healing process.

Equally, and although this can be difficult to get your head around, you need to accept you have no definitive control over whether the cancer returns or not. However, you can make decisions about how you live your life that could stop cancer taking more from you than it already has.

Things you can do:

  • Commit to taking your prescribed medicine – if you’re suffering from side-effects that make you want to quit, tell your doctor so you can adjust your management plan together.
  • Get 30 minutes a day of exercise that gets your heart pumping. (Learn more about our rehab funding.)
  • Choose a variety of healthy foods that serve your body and make you feel good. It’s ok to eat unhealthy foods on occasion, just make sure the healthy choices outweigh the unhealthy ones.
  • Avoid smoking and drink less – have alcohol-free days and if you do decide to drink alcohol, limit it to one standard drink per day.
  • Visit your doctor if something is persistently bothering you, even if it’s not particularly severe. Being checked off by the doctor can do wonders for maintaining a positive frame of mind.
  • Do more of what you enjoy.
  • Be open to learning; explore new ideas, studies and different perspectives that might be useful in your own journey but be sure to discuss any treatments with your doctor before beginning.
  • Put parameters in place – if hearing other people’s stories or advice is making you feel worse rather than better, gently let them know.
  • Reach out for extra support if you find yourself feeling “stuck”. Counselling and/or exploring support groups can help here.

Shifting from an illness way of being in the world to a wellness approach isn’t necessarily easy to do, and there’s no one way to go about it. Pick some of the ideas above and try them out. Some days you may fail to follow what you’ve decided. This might even happen a lot and that’s ok.

Doing your best is the best you can do in this life and understanding this is possibly the hardest, but most freeing realisation you can come to.

Thanks to Carly Robinson, oncologist Mike McCrystal and health psychologist Geraldine Tennant for their participation in our Fear of Recurrence webinar held in October 2017, from where this content is based. You can watch the recording on demand here.