How can I help anyone else when I’m so upset about the cancer coming back?

Learning that the cancer is back can be overwhelming – you may feel as if you can’t help yourself, much less anyone else. All of a sudden, your life is in chaos again and your future is uncertain. And then there are your kids to think about.

Even though you are your children’s best source of security, you don’t need to be perfect. Your steadfast love for them is the most important factor in how they will manage, so try to be realistic about what you expect of yourself. You may need to rely on others for help for some time during your treatment. It may be hard to ask, but remember that people often really want to help. And it might be only for a short time, until you feel more in control.

You may feel sadness and grief as you prepare to do battle with cancer again. You realize that your comfortable, normal life will go away again, at least for a while. Patients often describe feeling betrayed because their body has “let them down.” They say things like “I did everything I was supposed to (surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation) and the cancer still came back!” You may wonder what you can count on. All of these feelings are normal. At some point, most people are able to rally their resources and fight the cancer again. But one of the biggest mistakes you can make at this point is to expect to meet this challenge alone. You, your family, and your loved ones must meet it together.

So, take some time to grieve and feel sad or angry. Talk to your family about how they’re feeling, too. Then you can pull yourself (and all of your resources and support systems) together to start doing the things needed to meet the cancer challenge again. Here are some things to think about as you prepare to talk to your children about what’s going on. If you need more information on recurrence for yourself, you might want to read When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence.

How do I deal with the sense that recurrence means things are hopeless?

There are a lot of different ways to look at and talk about cancer that has come back, and many things can affect your outcome. Is there a chance you might not survive the cancer recurrence? Yes. Does that mean there’s no hope? No. When cancer comes back, your hopes are very different from those you had when you were first diagnosed.

Today, a cancer recurrence doesn’t have to mean you don’t have long to live. Advances in cancer treatment and the management of treatment side effects continue to improve. There’s no denying your situation is more serious if the cancer has come back, but for many patients this simply means that treatment will be different.

At the same time, cancers that come back or get worse despite treatment tend to be harder to treat and control. It’s important for you to talk to your cancer care team. They can give you a good idea of what you can expect to happen. It may be that your cancer is not likely to be cured, but things still can be done to treat and control it. You and your family should be clear about the goal of any treatment you’re having: Is it to relieve pain or symptoms? Extend survival? Might it cure the cancer? These are things you’ll want to know as you’re weighing your treatment options.

It’s often very hard to think about starting more treatment for cancer. You may have feelings of panic and desperation. If you’re unsure about more treatment, you might want to get a second opinion from a doctor at a cancer center or university teaching hospital. Again, ask about the goals of each treatment you discuss with them. Make sure you have covered all your bases and given yourself every chance to get the best treatment available.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Revised: December 12, 2014

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