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Breast Cancer Survivors: Coping with Fears of Recurrence

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    So how do you handle these fears? First, understand that what Weiss calls "separation anxiety" is normal. "It's hard to shift back to a life where treatment is less in your face than it was before," she says.

    Next, give yourself -- and your treatment plan -- credit. "You worked so hard to identify a plan of action and worked so hard to make it happen," says Weiss. "At the end, you have to stop and give yourself credit for what you've just achieved, then pause and shift to a different phase in your life: surveillance." You're still being watched, she reminds her patients -- the intervals are just a little longer.

    By talking about her fears, Jami Bernard is already taking action to cope with them. She has also joined a support group for women with breast cancer, where she can talk about her fears and hopes with other women who understand what she was going through. If you're not as comfortable with in-person support groups, online message boards at sites such as WebMD or Breastcancer.org are safe places to chat with women going through the same post-treatment worries. Other approaches that have helped some women control recurrence fears are mind-body exercises like yoga and tai chi, meditation, and keeping a journal.

    Expect that you'll second-guess yourself along the way. Maybe you heard a news story about Elizabeth Edwards having chemotherapy before surgery, and found yourself thinking, "Why didn't my doctor recommend that to me?" Remember, you don't know everything about someone else's breast cancer. The woman next to you in the waiting room may seem like she has a very similar type of disease, but there could be factors you don't know about that make you very different.

    "Everyone feels sold on their own treatment approach, so when you talk to someone else about what they did, you'll pick up on that vibe," says Weiss.

    Will there ever be a day that you don't think about breast cancer, or worry about it coming back? Yes, says Bernard. "It does recede. Eventually there were whole days when I didn't think about it," she says. "Time is a healer in that sense."

    Gina Shaw is a medical writer who was treated for breast cancer in 2004, and now calls herself a "joyful breast cancer survivor."

    WebMD Feature

    Reviewed by Paul O'Neill, MD on September 01, 2006
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