Saturday, 9 March 2019

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Coping with Fear 2

“Fear following a cancer diagnosis takes many forms - it may exist as constant background noise or visit unexpectedly and violently, causing a panic attack.”

Our discussion this week focused on dealing with fear - for those of us with primary breast cancer, of our cancer returning, and for women with secondary breast cancer, progression. We talked about what triggers our fears, and how we deal with them.

Fear following a cancer diagnosis takes many forms - it may exist as constant background noise or visit unexpectedly and violently, causing a panic attack. It may lessen with time or become magnified. We are naturally vigilant and so aches, pains and unusual symptom can cause anxiety. Appointment letters, mammograms and waiting for test results are particularly stressful. Needing an X-Ray or MRI scan fills us with dread. We line up for our tests and scans and wait anxiously for results, fearing the worst. 

We often face these fears alone, with limited formal support and we deal with the emotional fallout as best we can. A few of us have a friend or family member we can share with, but many of us, irrespective of whether we have primary or secondary breast cancer, deal with these fears on our own, not wanting to worry our loved ones, or feeling that their 
patience runs thin if we try to talk about our concerns.

Common triggers for increased fear are forward planning, renewing documents, birthdays and special occasions. These seemingly joyful events lead us to wonder if we will be here to see more anniversaries. For many, a strong fear is not seeing children grow up and not being around to celebrate major milestones with them.  Being unwell generally reminds us of how precious our health is, and for those on continuing treatment the side effects often render us ill and tired.  

Many of us don’t look very far ahead as we fear we won’t be here for future plans. We shared that the worst time is often the middle of the night when, unable to sleep, our fears may take on monstrous proportions.   

Those of us with a family history of breast cancer may feel more at risk and this deepens our fear and becomes something we take forwards with us.

For some, fear is so dominant that it limits our zest for life and we become contained or restricted in what we choose to do. When fear is constant and all-consuming, it becomes exhausting.   
Others described getting on with our lives reasonably well when things are going smoothly, but when additional stressful events hit us then the fear rises and compounds our anxiety, and we beat ourselves up for not being able to cope.

We often use metaphors and analogies to describe how the fear feels: one is based around the word CANCER itself, which appears in capital letters in the forefront of our mind at diagnosis and is so large and dense that there is no way through, round or over. 

As time goes by the word gets smaller and we may find we can see through it or go round it, and sometimes it fades away into the background, perhaps into nothing.   

Another is seeing the cancer as a gargoyle like creature who sits on our shoulder shouting CANCER in our ear.  We can knock it off but it follows us around, mostly quiet and at a distance but sometimes sneaking up close and demanding our attention. 

We use many ways to cope with our fear, one being to keep busy and not dwell on what might happen. Some have worked hard to accept that some things cannot be changed and that a healthy resilient approach is to live for the day and enjoy the moment. Some of us live with the attitude that worrying won’t change anything and will only spoil today. Coping strategies include imagining the worst that can happen and turning it into a ‘hot spot’ thought. Then realising  that it probably won’t be that bad, but working through some practical solutions to resolve it. Sometimes wallowing in the sadness and fear and really feeling it can help, as long as this is time limited. We might follow this with a treat, some self-care – perhaps a bath, some chocolate, a walk. 

We agreed that more needs to be done to support us psychologically. Our group is a place where women can share their fears, knowing that they will be listened to and understood.

If you are a woman with a breast cancer diagnosis, you live in the UK and you would like to join our private group, please message us via Facebook. 

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