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Cancer Health Center

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Cancer Support: When Your Cancer Comes Back or Gets Worse - Topic Overview

"In my head, I felt I was cured. After I recovered from my breast cancer surgery, that's how I thought of myself. So when my doctor told me last month that my cancer had come back, my world came crashing down, hard."-Kelly, 42

"When my doctor told me that my cancer had spread, I felt ready to give up then and there. But my friends and family have given me incredible support. I know I'll be spending the time I have left being cared for and loved. I'm learning to cherish every day."-Andy, 53

Getting that first cancer diagnosis was bad enough. But hearing that cancer has come back or spread can take an even bigger toll.

You're likely feeling your way through a maze of emotions. As powerless as you may feel, it can help to remember there are things you still have control over. You can:

  • Deal with the stress.
  • Get support.
  • Find the positive side.
  • Take back control.

Dealing with the stress

It's hard to imagine many things that could be more stressful than learning that your cancer has come back or has spread. You may worry about the future, about more treatment and more side effects, about your job, about your family.

actionset.gif Relaxing your mind and body with deep breathing and guided imagery can help you manage your worries and feel better.

Some people need more than relaxation techniques. If your emotions are getting in the way of your daily life or your ability to take care of yourself, you can get help from a counselor with expertise in this area. Ask your doctor to help you find one.

Getting support

Relationships take on new importance when you're faced with cancer that has come back or has spread. Maybe you had an army of people supporting you the first time your cancer appeared. Or maybe you went through it alone. But now you need other people more than ever.

Reach out to your family and friends. They want to help, but some of them may not know what to do. Tell them how they can help. Ask them to:

  • Listen to you and give you encouragement. This can keep you from feeling hopeless or alone.
  • Help with small daily tasks or with bigger problems. A helping hand can keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Go to doctor visits with you. Your loved ones can offer support by being involved in your medical care.

You can also look for help from other sources.

  • Counseling can help you cope with cancer, cancer treatments, and the effect cancer is having on your life.
  • Your health care team should be supportive. Be open and honest about your fears and concerns. Your doctor can help you get the right medical treatments, including counseling.
  • Spiritual or religious groups can provide comfort and may be able to help you find counseling or other social support services.
  • Social groups can help you meet new people and get involved in activities you enjoy.
  • Community support groups give you the chance to talk to others who have dealt with the same problems as you have. You can encourage one another and learn ways of coping with tough emotions.
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