Living With Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence

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A patient’s story

    Frances had a mastectomy for breast cancer. She has completed chemotherapy and radiation to her chest. Her doctor has told her that no cancer can be found in her body. Even though she will be seen in his office every 4 to 6 months for the next 5 years, her doctor seems to think the worst is over. But it’s hard for Frances to trust that the cancer is gone. She wants to know the chances of the cancer coming back. “I feel like if I knew my exact chances of the cancer coming back, I could deal with it. But when I ask my doctor, he gives me a range of statistics over a number of years. I can’t live like this. I need more specifics.”

Frances is expressing many of the common concerns a person has after completing cancer treatment (or the main portion of it). Now she’s living with the unknown. She wants to feel like a cancer survivor, ready to put the experience behind her. But she’s afraid that the cancer may come back and she will be reliving it all again soon. She wants to know the odds of the cancer coming back. But what she really wants is to know that she will never have cancer again.

Last Medical Review: 06/19/2013
Last Revised: 06/19/2013