Leukemia survivor: How I cope with fear of a recurrence

It’s been six years since I was first told that I had no evidence of
acute myeloid leukemia. But thoughts about
recurrence still pop into my head from time to time. I don’t think
they’ll ever completely disappear, but the fear has lessened with time.

Here’s what I’ve learned about coping with these fears since I
entered remission.

Be mindful of your thoughts

I remember the first time I came down with the flu a few months
after I’d completed my treatment. Even though I knew it was flu season
and everyone around me was sick, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d had
a relapse, especially since I’d exhibited many of the same symptoms
just prior to my leukemia diagnosis. I set up an appointment my family
doctor, who prescribed me some medicine and ran bloodwork to make sure
my blood counts were fine. And they were indeed OK.

I realized then that I shouldn’t allow a fear of a relapse to
consume my mind every time I get sick. Getting sick occasionally is
part of life, and if I wanted to resume a normal life, I knew I needed
to accept that.

Distract yourself from overwhelming thoughts

One method I used to cope was distraction. Whenever I felt
overwhelmed, I tried to direct my attention toward something else. For
example, in the beginning, I had trouble sleeping many nights. But I
found that watching reruns of my favorite comedy shows pulled me back
to the present moment and put a smile back on my face. I
particularly liked watching episodes I’d already seen because I could
fall asleep without wondering how they would end.

Express your fears to someone else

Talking to a professional or loved ones can really help bring
comfort. When I first expressed my fears to close friends and family,
they told me, “That’s not going to happen again.” I would ask, “And if
it does?” and they’d respond, “Well, you’ll just have to kick its butt
again.” Those conversations helped me remember that I’ve already
beaten leukemia once, and they gave me confidence that everything will
be OK even if cancer does come back.

Live in the moment

I’ve also learned that coping with the fear of recurrence requires
living in the moment. I really make an effort to enjoy each day a
little more and stress less about the smaller things. I constantly
remind myself that I need to live my life and be happy that I’m here.

Find a silver lining to your fear

I try not to view my fear of recurrence as purely negative. I use it
to motivate myself to lead a healthy lifestyle. I drink a lot more
water now, and I eat more fruits and veggies to reduce my risk for
cancer and other diseases. Don’t get me wrong, I still indulge in
fried foods sometimes, but I now make an extra effort to walk it off.

Encourage yourself

I’ll admit it: I still get a little anxious before my annual
follow-up appointments, even if I feel perfectly fine. But even though
the fear of recurrence is something I may never be able to truly
erase, it is something I can control. And so can you.

Start by celebrating today, this very moment. Be proud of how far
you have come. It takes a lot of strength and courage to get to where
you are today, so let what you have gone through be your strength.
Fear will pop up, but don’t let it consume you. Talk about it, cry it
out over some ice cream or do whatever comforts you. Just make sure to
get back up, dust yourself off and know that you’ve got this!

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