Cancer Tips

Managing health concerns after a cancer diagnosis

It’s been a long time since I fell down the rabbit hole of googling symptoms and getting sucked into the ‘it’s cancer’ head space. I don’t usually spend unnecessary energy on worry, but as a three-time cancer survivor, I’m not immune to the anxiety and concerns that many survivors sometimes face. I know other survivors face these moments so want to touch on managing health concerns after a cancer diagnosis.

(Psst: if you are a family/friend of a cancer survivor, I encourage you to read through to the end for tips on how you can provide support.)

I broke my Dr. Google rule

A few weeks ago, I noticed a change in my body. It didn’t get better even after a few days. By then, it was a Friday when no doctor could get me in until the following week.

So I did something I never do (seriously, I have a rule for myself about doing this)…. I jumped on the internet to see what might be happening. I got a lot of options, but of course the top search result was a type of cancer. For whatever reason, my brain latched onto this so by Sunday morning, I was pretty stressed. I went back and forth between telling myself to knock it off and doing calming tactics, and freaking out. I finally couldn’t handle the anxiety and took myself to urgent care. The provider kindly didn’t roll her eyes when I said, “I Googled it….”

Turns out that I had a minor infection, one that I’d had before. I admittedly rolled my own eyes at myself not recognizing the symptoms. But I was so blinded by the top search symptom promoting the big C that I failed to rationally consider the symptoms (face palm).

And that happens to the best of us.

Wild emotions are normal after a cancer diagnosis

Managing health concerns after a cancer diagnosis can be challenging. And mentally and emotionally draining. It’s normal to feel anxiety or fear following a cancer diagnosis. These feelings may pop up at various times, like when you go for scans, preventive screenings or get treated for something unrelated to your cancer diagnosis. A sore throat, aches in your body, rash, whatever – these symptoms can be very mild (compared to cancer) and related to another virus, allergy, etc. But once you’ve been through a cancer diagnosis and treatment, these symptoms may at times bring up flashbacks of cancer.

If you feel these emotions regularly, please talk to your doctor and/or a mental health specialist. You shouldn’t live your life in fear or anxiety, especially when there is help available. [Here are some tips for managing anxiety after a health issue.]

Tips for managing health concerns after a cancer diagnosis:

Contact your doctor with health concerns
  • Contact your doctor if you notice health changes or are simply uncomfortable or concerned about something. Being proactive can catch something early (besides cancer!) AND help you mentally and emotionally. A good doctor will alleviate your concerns.
  • A mental health professional can also help you manage anxiety, worry and more. I have seen a counselor off and on for years, and it’s been a huge help to keeping me focused on less worry, more living with ease and joy.
  • Don’t spend too much time searching the internet for answers. While it can be helpful for some things (like how many tablespoons of lemon juice equal a fresh squeezed lemon!), you need to be very aware of where you’re finding information. There are some crazy myths and make believe information out there! Go to trusted sources (CDC, NCI, etc.), but even then, remember that your doctor can help you get the right clinical information about your individual concerns.
  • Know your body. Being familiar with your body and how it feels will help you notice changes, even slight ones. Over the past 25 years, I’m very familiar with my body, everyday aches and even my skin tones and marks. This helps me know when something changes or I just don’t feel good. It also helps me clearly explain to my doctors any concerns.
  • Trust your instinct. If your inner guidance is waving red flags, pay attention. Check in with your body, note changes and make sure that your doctors are listening. Always remember that YOU are your own best advocate.
  • Distract yourself. This doesn’t mean ignore any new symptoms or changes to your health! After you talk to your doctor and get the answers that you need, try to calm your mind. Do something that you enjoy, call a friend, watch a funny movie. Being physically active is also great for lowering stress levels. Writing in a journal can be a great way to release your anxiety and worry. Check out my Today I Choose journal here to help you get started with writing prompts. [Read ‘6 tips for mental health support’ for other ideas.]

Remember that you are alive in this moment

A strategy that I often use when my mind starts running wildly away from calm is to focus on my breath.

  • I sit in a quiet space (even my car before going into an appointment).
  • Place one hand over my heart to feel the beat. This heartbeat reminds that I am ALIVE. No matter what I am facing, I am alive in this very moment.
  • Then I close my eyes (if in a place to do so that’s comfortable/safe).
  • Breath in for four counts. Hold for four counts (less if unable to hold for four). Release the breath for four counts.

This focus helps center me in the moment. I repeat the breath work for at least five minutes or until I feel more relaxed.

And on a similar note if you are a family or friend to a cancer survivor (in or out of treatment):

If someone comes to you with anxiety or concerns about a symptom or situation, don’t dismiss these concerns. Telling someone who is facing a life-threatening illness or even someone out of treatment that they’re overthinking it or should stop worrying does not actually help ease their mind. You do not have to offer advice (and if you feel inclined to do so, please be thoughtful in what you share/say), but providing a listening ear (TRULY LISTEN) can provide great comfort and ease to many of us. The CDC also provides some resources for helping cancer survivors and caregivers.

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