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Pain, Anxiety, and the Fear of Recurrence

Last updated: November 2023

I have advanced breast cancer, and my cancer presents in my bones. Having cancer inside my bones is tricky. On the one hand, it feels like arthritis in my body, but on the other hand, I wonder if it is a progression or a lesion.

Questioning the cause of my pain

Every single ache and pain feels like a tiny alarm going off in my head. Whenever I have a bad pain day, it reminds me how precious my time is. This is a hard feeling to balance because it has positives and negatives.

I'm pretty lucky right now. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2020, and I've only had the pleasure of being on 1 line of treatment. I like my safe little bubble. Thinking of having to switch treatments sends me into a panic spiral. I wonder:

  • What if I don't tolerate a new treatment well?
  • What if I go through all the trouble to switch treatments, and it doesn't work?
  • What if I have to experience more disappointment if a new treatment fails?

A constant fear of recurrence

This is the reality of what it's like living with advanced breast cancer. I always fear recurrence. I don't have control and am at the whims of what my body decides to do. Sometimes, my body works with me, and sometimes against me. The times when things work and everything goes smoothly are what everyone wants, right?

Dealing with the lack of control

The reality of this lack of control is pretty rough. Typically, life isn't always about things going how you want them to. In a cancer "muggle's" world, that is fine. In a resident of "Cancerland's" world, it can mean life or death.

So, in comes anxiety. There's so much panic about what a recurrence could mean. What could the pain be? Is it arthritis, or is it a lesion? Did I sleep in a funny position, or is the cancer in my spine now? Will I always be in this much pain?

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Anxiety and cancer recurrence

That last one is tough for me. Before having bone metastasis, I wasn't a person in pain. Sure, I had the usual pains from my job as a hair stylist, but that is nothing like what I experience now. It is tough to go from relatively able-bodied to dealing with chronic pain every single day.

The added layer of anxiety about recurrence is something that many people without cancer can't fully empathize with. People will say to me things like, "Oh, I'm sure it's nothing," and "Well, you are getting older..."

Those types of comments can seem like they come from the heart to try to help quell my anxiety. But after stressing out all day about a new pain location, that's the last thing I want to hear.

It's about on the same level as telling someone who is actively panicking to "calm down." Is that going to happen? Absolutely not. Will it make our panicking worse? Probably.

Feeling trapped and asking for help

Living in a cancer body is a special kind of hell. It can feel like you're trapped inside something that might never function correctly again. You have to ask for a lot more help than you used to.

It's taken me a long while to understand that that is okay. It's okay to ask for help.

Your people are there for you. They want to help you. They want to see you thrive for as long as you can and include you in their lives, too. It's tough asking for help, and cancer is so humbling that way. Just remember, it's okay.

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