Years ago a dear friend was diagnosed with kidney cancer. His cancerous kidney was surgically removed. After surgery, he thought he was cured of cancer. About three years later he developed severe back pain. His doctor referred him to physical therapy. Three months later his pain worsened. Further diagnostic testing revealed that cancer had spread throughout his body. He died a few months later. I was devastated.
The life lesson I learned from this tragedy was this: If I'm ever diagnosed with cancer, never go off the grid. I made a promise to myself to get tested regularly in the event I was diagnosed with any form of cancer.
It's been six years since I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. My yearly PSA test occurs in the month of April. I have the order for my lab test in my car. No one could be more surprised than me to discover that my deepest desire is to skip the test and go off the grid. My reaction makes no sense.
I know full well the earlier a recurrence is detected, the greater odds I have of surviving it. Knowing this, or remembering what happened to my friend, has no impact on my desire to skip the test and go off the grid.
As I tried to understand my resistance to my yearly PSA testing, I've come to this conclusion: I've grown weary of living with the reality that the possibility of a recurrence of cancer is always hanging over me. I mistakenly thought going off the grid would allow me to deny this reality.
As I researched the fear of recurrence; I discovered there are hundreds of thousands of articles written about this topic.
In an article titled Waiting for the Shoe to Drop: Managing Your Fear of Recurrence by Northwestern Medicine, they found that:
Fear of recurrence was reported by 22-74% of people with a history of cancer, depending on how you ask the question. And one-third of cancer patients experienced recurrence fears 10 years after their diagnosis.
They also found that certain events trigger or activate this fear.
According to the article by Northwestern Medicine, common triggers for fear of recurrence are as follows:
- Upcoming medical appointments; oncology visits, cancer screening
- Anniversary of cancer diagnosis or treatment
- Hearing about another person’s cancer or a person who died from cancer
- Any mention of cancer
- Side effects from past cancer treatment
- Unexplained physical symptoms
I wasn't surprised to discover PSA screening could trigger the fear of recurrence. I was surprised the way my fears affected me. I thought I'd experience anxiety and sleep loss. I never expected I'd be fighting the urge to skip the test and go off the grid. As I wrote the previous sentence the phrase "What you don't know can kill you" popped into my mind.
I love my wife and family too much to skip my PSA test. I discussed my resistance to testing with my wife, and the men who follow my Facebook page. I'm glad I did. If your fear of recurrence is interfering with the quality of your life, causing intrusive and unwelcome thoughts, loss of sleep, or leading you to skip or avoid testing, I urge you to get support. Speak with someone about this. You can join an online or face-to-face support group. Don't allow the fear of reoccurrence ruin your life.
When I finish writing this column I'm making my appointment for my yearly PSA test.
If you or someone you love is coping with cancer, how are you dealing with your fears of recurrence? If you're willing to share your experiences I'd like to hear from you.
Note: This article appeared in Prostate Cancer News Today
Rick Redner and his wife Brenda Redner wrote two award winning books. The first:
provides men and couples with information and support before, during and after prostate surgery.
Their second book was written for couples living with!erectile dysfunction. After living with erectile dysfunction for four years, Rick chose penile implant surgery. The couple share how implant surgery changed their lives and relationship.