A cancer recurrence can leave you dealing with a whole range of different emotions, such as shock, anger or feeling overwhelmed. We explore some of these feelings and look at ways to cope.
It may have been a few months since your initial diagnosis or many years; it may have come completely out of the blue or be something you have been waiting for. Whatever your situation, it does not make it any easier to deal with the shock of hearing that your ovarian cancer has returned.
If you feel well and have no physical symptoms, you may be feeling particularly frustrated at not knowing where the cancer is, or to what extent it has returned. This can lead to you feeling helpless and not know how to control your recurrence, which is a very common reaction.
It is normal to try to think of an explanation as to why your cancer has come back.
Many people blame themselves and feel guilty that they have let family and friends down. You may feel that you didn’t try hard enough, eat the right foods or think positively enough.
None of these are reasons for your cancer’s return, so please try not to feel guilty.
Ups and downs
It is not uncommon to find that your mood flits from worry about the future to feeling hopeful and positive. These fluctuations are very common as you begin to digest the information you have been given.
One feeling consistently reported by women with ovarian cancer is that they feel isolated. Ovarian cancer is seen as a less common cancer in comparison with breast cancer, for example.
Coping with your feelings
Sharing your experience with other women in a similar situation can be helpful.
Use our search function to find a support group for ovarian cancer or a gynae cancer support group near you.
If you cannot find one, ask your CNS – they may be able to put you in touch with other women locally, or get in touch with Target Ovarian Cancer to find out about information events or opportunities to meet other women
Facing treatment again
Now that your cancer has recurred it has changed from an acute to a long term condition. This means that you will experience periods, between treatment, of feeling well and leading an ordinary life.
Facing a future involving lots of cancer treatments is not something that anyone looks forward to but, with experience, you will develop coping strategies to help you get through it.
- set small, achievable goals
- plan pleasant activities in between treatment
- accept offers of help
You may dread the physical changes brought about by the treatment, particularly the hair loss and fatigue.
You may be afraid that the cancer treatment will not be able to control the disease and that you may experience severe pain. If this is one of your fears, be sure to talk to your CNS or oncologist as soon as possible.
The doctors and nurses may not be able to give you concrete information about what course your cancer will take. This might add to your fears. They are not avoiding your questions; they may genuinely not know the answer.
Worrying about pain
Most people do not experience severe pain and most pain can be controlled with regular painkillers.
Pain can make you suffer more stress and a lower mood - it is important not to suffer in silence.
If you found your primary chemotherapy treatment very distressing, or hated a particular side effect, then be sure to discuss this with your medical team.
For some people there is a desire to put their ‘house in order’ which can mean writing a will, and thinking about what you want from medical treatment today and in the future.
Although it can feel painful, writing a will is something we should all do whether we have cancer or not.
It may feel more poignant for you doing this now, but you will hopefully feel relieved when you have made decisions and you can get on with living your life to the full.
When things feel tough
Fear has been described as the most crushing side effect of having a diagnosis of recurrent cancer.
One of the greatest fears is that the cancer will shorten your life. You may find yourself preoccupied with your past life, with regrets of what you have still not achieved. It can be difficult to deal with these thoughts and the emotions that go with them, and you may feel very drained.
However, it may be possible to resolve some of these feelings by perhaps making contact with someone you have fallen out with, or doing some of the things you have always wanted to. Many people report that the intense feelings of fear felt at the time of their recurrence do become more bearable with time.
Some people describe coping with recurrent cancer as like ‘living in limbo’ or with the ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over them. If you find you are feeling constantly agitated and irritable you may benefit from some psychological support from a professional. They will be able to help you with strategies for dealing with negative thoughts.
Fear is a very understandable emotion but some fears may be unfounded and are often due to misconceptions. Your CNS can help you understand which fears are real and which are not, or can refer you for further support.
Please remember there is no right or wrong way to feel.
This content is primarily taken from our guide, Back here again
Our expert guide offers practical advice and information to help you cope with an ovarian cancer recurrence.
Last reviewed: August 2014
Next review: August 2016