As I Befriend My Fear of Relapse, Fear Loses Its Power

As I Befriend My Fear of Relapse, Fear Loses Its Power

Being a cancer survivor is a complicated thing. It’s a lot of conflicting experiences at once. It’s walking down the street as a warm breeze ruffles the unruly mop of curls on your head, feeling overcome with a sensation of gratitude as you’re reminded for the umpteenth time just how fortunate you are to still be here.

It’s also sitting in a wretchedly familiar hospital lounge, with its garish lime green chairs and wooden tables, as you wait to receive the results of an X-ray because you’ve been having chest pains again and you’re scared. You’re scared and also incredibly tired of always being scared.

It’s intoxicating highs and debilitating lows. It’s never being able to truly relax.

It’s logging onto your social media to find out another brave person in your cancer community has died due to this cruel and callous illness. It’s waking up every day with immense appreciation for your life, mixed with crippling exhaustion from the persistent insomnia that plagues your every restless night.

Cancer can come into your life briefly, or it can be part of your journey for more than 20 years. It doesn’t really matter how long you dance with this malady or the extent to which you’re forced to fight. Either way, once you’ve been touched by this illness, you are forever changed. That might seem obvious, but I think I am only starting to comprehend the depth of my scars now.

I suppose the truth is I am weary. I am tired of waking up in the morning and being gripped with anxiety that the aches and pains in my body are symptomatic of something far more insidious than just sore muscles. I am tired of losing people, of feeling guilt that I’m still here while others aren’t, of wondering if I’ll always be haunted by the ghostly presence of my past.

After overcoming my initial diagnosis at the tender age of 23, I naively remember believing I was free. I traveled, I explored, I was voracious for adventure, perhaps because subconsciously, I knew my cancer would return. In hindsight, I am extremely proud of the courageous 24-year-old who chose to travel the world, to live and work overseas despite all the reasons she had to stay home, close the curtains, and live in fear.

When cancer returned at 25, I felt bewildered. When you have been through it once, you inherently understand how much this disease will take from you. Still, somehow I got through it. But even now, after reaching remission, I’m starting to realize the fear of relapse isn’t going away.

Perhaps it’s not about diminishing one’s fears entirely, but rather learning to accept them instead. Maybe it’s even about befriending them.

The truth is, I don’t have the answer for how to deal with the fear of relapse. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing this. The only thing I know with absolute certainty is that nothing is guaranteed.

Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, you do not know what will happen in the future. All that any of us really have is this moment, right now. Will we choose to embrace the insecurity of being human and decide to be happy anyway, or will we let the fear of the unknown consume us?

While cycling home from the hospital after my X-ray, I had the realization that I could get hit by a bus at that very minute. It’s a dark thought, certainly, but it’s a valid one. I could die tomorrow. In fact, I should have died but I didn’t. For some reason, I’m still here while so many precious people aren’t, and I will never know why.

All I know is I want to enjoy the time I have. How? By accepting the present moment exactly as it is. By coming to terms with the insecurity that comes with being a survivor. That comes with simply being human.

Right now, this body of mine may be bruised and vulnerable, but it’s still strong and it’s still functioning. I can still run and jump and feel the wind in my freshly grown hair. I can still hold the people I love and laugh out loud. I can still lie in the summer sun, and most importantly, I can still dance.

I am here right now. So I believe I might as well learn to befriend my fear.

After all, when you begin to accept the fragility of life, the fear slowly starts to lose its power.


Note: Lymphoma News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lymphoma News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lymphoma.

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  1. Sarah Marshall says:

    My leukemia is not in remission yet after almost 2 years of treatments. The thing that concerns me is what will my pain level be like towards the end of my life. I do not have anyone to talk to at any time about it.

    • Hi Sarah. I am sorry to hear you are still struggling with leukemia. Two years of treatment is a lot, you must be exhausted of fighting so hard. I may not understand your exact journey but I do know what it’s like to feel alone in this struggle and I want you to know you have a family here who care and are willing to listen. You can talk to me if you want an ear – [email protected] – my inbox is open. I am sorry you feel like you do not have anyone to talk to about your pain. I feel your pain and I am holding it.

  2. Cami Keyes says:

    Very well said ! I was initially diagnosed at 45, first recurrence 16 months later followed by a six year battle that included two stem cell transplants and a prediction of 6 moths to live. But six years later, I am still here…with aches, pains, anxiety and insomnia…but so grateful for everyday. Thank you for sharing your journey and so eloquently putting to words what so many of us feel.

    • Hi Cami, wow, what a journey you have been on! Two stem cell transplants and being told you have six months to live – and yet you defied the odds and are still here. That is truly remarkable. I know then you understand, on a deeply personal level, the immense gift of simply being here and how precious this life is. I suppose the aches and pains and insomnia and anxiety are a daily reminder of what we have been through. So happy this resonated and that you are still here to read it. Sending so much love

  3. Kristi Fletcher says:

    Thank you for being courageous enough to share your story here. I needed this post today after randomly finding this site on a Google search. I had an aggressive form of lymphoma, diffuse large b-cell. Remission since February. Six months of recovery after six months of chemo. Still trying to piece life back together. My first scan since is a week from today, just a few days before the anniversary of my diagnosis. The anxiety and fear has been setting in. Grateful for your words that I’m sure I will re-read to help get me through this time. Best wishes to you.

    • Hi Kristi. Thank you for this comment. I am so glad you stumbled upon this article and it found you when you needed it. I am also so so happy to hear you are in remission – what an unfathomably beautiful gift. Piecing one’s life together after so much physical and mental devastation is such a long, tiring process isn’t it. I am holding you and sending you abundant light as you go forward. I trust your scan will be ok. You got this. You got this.

  4. Gretchen P says:

    Michelle, this is beautifully written. As being in remission myself, it feels as though you’ve put some of my own scrambled thoughts onto paper. I’ve accepted that it’ll always be a part of me, it maaay come out of the shadows one day, but I pray it won’t be for many many years. My cousin was just diagnosed with a different cancer. I’d like to share parts of your article with him as well. Its comforting to know we’re not alone in our fights! Thank you for posting!

    • Gretchen! Thank you for this amazing comment. I am so happy to hear of your remission. Yes, it will always be with us won’t it. But we can learn to see it as a beautiful chapter in our story not our entire identity. We have to live while we can and be grateful everyday for this second / third / fourth chance. What a gift! Please share with your cousin and send them my love. I am sending abundant love and strength back.

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