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A cancer recurrence can leave you dealing with a whole range of different emotions such as shock, anger or feeling overwhelmed or isolated. Here, we explore some of these feelings and look at ways to cope.

Your feelings

Shock

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. 

Frustration

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 you may not know how to control your recurrence, which is a very common reaction.

Guilt

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. We still don't fully understand why some cancers return, and why some return years after a woman has finished treatment and others just months after. 

When things feel tough

A recurrence of ovarian cancer can affect your mental health and emotional wellbeing as well as your body. It's understandable if you have the odd ‘duvet day’ when you feel upset. But if this is becoming more common or your emotions are feeling out of control, you may need some extra help.

Coping with feeling alone

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. Sharing your experience with other women in a similar situation can be helpful.

You can search for a support group near you on our website, or your Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) may be able to put you in touch with other women locally, if you are keen to meet others who have experienced what you are going through. 

If support groups don't appeal to you, you might want to think about getting support in other ways. There are a variety of online communities, telephone support lines and professional therapies available, all of which might help you to feel more in control and less isolated. Even reading about other women's experiences might be beneficial. You can find out more about these and other sources of support here. 

Target Ovarian Cancer also runs support events all over the UK for women who have been affected by ovarian cancer to meet each other and share their experiences. Stay in touch with us to hear about future events, or take a look at our list of upcoming events here.

Dealing with fear 

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 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.

If you find you are feeling constantly agitated and anxious you may benefit from some psychological support from a professional. They will be able to help you with strategies for dealing with difficult thoughts.

Fear is a very understandable emotion but it may be possible to resolve some of these feelings. Your CNS can help you understand which fears are real and which are not, or can refer you for further support. Many people report that the intense feelings of fear felt at the time of their recurrence do become more bearable with time.

Facing treatment again

worryingaboutpain

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. You will experience periods between treatment of feeling well and living an ordinary life.
  • Accept offers of help.

Facing treatment again can be particularly difficult having experienced it before. You may dread the physical changes brought about by the treatment, particularly hair loss and fatigue. The extent that you dread the treatment can depend on your experience the first time around, so make sure to discuss any concerns with your CNS or oncologist, who will do all they can to alleviate your fears or anxieties.

If you are the type of person who wanted information after your initial diagnosis then it is likely you will want lots more now. It is understandable that you will want to explore every avenue and most people look for any new treatments that might be available. This can be time consuming and exhausting. Always remember that you can discuss your treatment with your medical team. It is OK to ask questions and share your opinion and experience of a treatment.

It is also very common for people to feel that they would like to explore complementary therapies at this time. This can give you a greater sense of control. It is always wise to discuss any complementary treatments with your medical team. 

Worrying about pain

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.

Most people do not experience severe pain and most pain can be controlled with regular painkillers.

As well as physical discomfort, pain can make you suffer more stress and a lower mood, so it is important not to suffer in silence.

Practical considerations

It is possible that you may be feeling a sense of loss since your diagnosis. The loss you feel may include the loss of independence. Sometimes families and friends can be a little overprotective and feel they are doing the right thing when they take over your household tasks or start running your day to day life. If this has happened and you would prefer to carry on with your routine as normally as possible then try to discuss your feelings with your family and friends. You can always ask your CNS to meet with you and your partner to help explain what you need and want now, and what you don't.

You may also be feeling a loss of physical or sexual closeness. There can be many misunderstandings following a diagnosis of recurrent ovarian cancer. Your partner may feel nervous about physical contact in case it hurts you and at the same time you may feel rejected. Again, try to talk to your partner about this.

For some people there is a desire to put their ‘house in order’, which can mean writing a will if you did not do so before you had ovarian cancer, and thinking about what you want from medical treatment today and in the future.

Although it can feel painful doing these sort of things, it 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.

Ups and downs

Some people describe coping with recurrent cancer as living in limbo. You may feel that life will never be the same again and at this stage you can't imagine ever getting back to normal. It is also 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. You may find it hard to believe but many women come to accept that their ovarian cancer treatment has become part of their lives and they continue their usual activities, despite ongoing treatment. 

It can be difficult balancing family and friends with the demands of your ovarian cancer and personal time. Women often put themselves at the bottom of their list of priorities so try to remember to do some things you enjoy, whether that is going for a walk or spending time with the people you are closest to.

Please remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel.

Find out more

This content is primarily taken from our guide, Back here again

Back here again

Our expert guide offers practical advice and information to help you cope with an ovarian cancer recurrence.

The information on this page is approved by the Information Standard scheme to ensure that it provides accurate and high-quality information.

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Last reviewed: January 2017
Next review: December 2019