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Surviving Cancer:Processing Fear and Anxiety when it's over

Oct 13, 2017 09:33AM ● Published by Caitlin Marshall

In a study of 244 breast cancer survivors five to nine years post-diagnosis, published in the journal Oncology Nursing Forum, researchers found that fears of recurrence were frequent. The most commonly reported experiences that triggered fear included yearly follow-up appointments, doctors’ appointments, hearing of another’s cancer, physical symptoms or pain, news reports about breast cancer, and the anniversary of the diagnosis. The time that had elapsed since diagnosis was unrelated to the frequency of such triggers. Sadly, some people mistakenly believe that this overwhelming fear is the inevitable and “natural” outcome of cancer. Receiving a life-threatening diagnosis can be classified as a trauma. Many people with a cancer diagnosis have entered therapy because of anxiety and fear that persists even after the medical treatment has been successfully completed.

These long-lasting negative reactions can often be tracked back to the moment of diagnosis or something that happened during treatment that was particularly distressing. The information processing system of the brain has stored the experience — with the emotions, physical sensations and beliefs that occurred at the time of the event. So, even though medical tests may now show no sign of the disease, the fear and anxiety encoded in that unprocessed memory remains. These feelings can increase dramatically around the time of yearly testing or by any event that reminds the person of the cancer experience. E.M.D.R. therapy is successfully used to process and alleviate these disturbing responses.

The diagnosis and the treatment of cancer is very traumatic for the individual and the families involved. This traumatic experience can be manifested in and individual in four different ways. 1. It produces a sense of a threat to one’s life. 2. It potentially threatens the quality of one’s life and that of their family. 3. It creates an intense sense of vulnerability and loss of control. 4. It often creates strong emotions and intrusive thoughts that interfere with daily functions.

EMDR and other related therapies can be very useful in managing and treating the emotional symptoms related to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. EMDR therapy can be useful in four different ways. 1. It can help to stabilize the individual prior to treatment. 2. It can help in the identification and the processing of disturbing thoughts and memories after treatment. 3. It can help the client create future templates that will be useful in handling worries and fears. 4. It can help in the reduction of feelings of distress and improve the individual’s capacity to adjust as a cancer survivor.

This therapy allows people to get on with their lives without being haunted by fear and anxiety. The important thing to remember is that no matter how long it has been since diagnosis and treatment, fears of recurrence need not be a permanent psychological scar of breast cancer or any other cancer one may have experienced.


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