Coping With a Recurrence or Second Cancer

Author: Christina Bach, MBE, LCSW, OSW-C
Last Reviewed: August 08, 2022

When the fear of cancer recurring becomes reality, it can bring up many questions and emotions. This can be a recurrence of your first cancer or a new cancer altogether. Common questions include:

  • Can this be treated, controlled, or cured?
  • What did I do/not do to make this cancer come back?
  • Am I up for more treatment---can I do this?
  • Do I have treatment options?
  • Can my family handle it?
  • Was the other treatment a waste of time?
  • What do I do now?

You may feel fearful, shocked, angry, overwhelmed, and like you are losing control. Turn to those who gave you support during your first battle with cancer. Don't hesitate to seek out help and support- from social workers, therapists, and support groups (in-person and online). Family, friends, and religious/spiritual leaders/clergy can be great sources of support during a second cancer battle. Keep in mind, that you have done this before. You know much more now than you did at the time of your original diagnosis. Use that knowledge to guide your treatment decisions and help you put into place the support you need to get through this battle. recurrence or second cancer can mean different things to different people- each situation is unique. You may want to start aggressive treatment right away. Perhaps you just aren't sure you want to go through more chemotherapy or surgery. There is no "right" way to respond. Just as the initial treatment decisions are a balance of pros and cons, so are these decisions.

Ask your treating physician to describe all of your options and what treatment they recommend and why. How does your previous treatment affect this treatment? With the help of your support people, weigh the pros and cons of your treatment options. Consider your goals and how each treatment will impact them and your quality of life. You may want to consider seeing another provider and get a second opinion. Getting a second opinion does not mean you have to switch doctors; you are just getting input from another perspective. You may also want to research what clinical trials are available to you.

While surgery, chemotherapy, or a clinical trial of a new medication may be the best option for some, others may feel that they don't want to pursue aggressive treatments again. And that is okay. It may not be a decision family and friends will understand, but it is the patient's decision to make. Talk with your team about palliative care and hospice options.

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