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April 15, 2020

Anxiety and Despair Addressed - I’m Always Worried My Cancer Will Come Back

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Dawn Speckhart, PhD, Clinical Health Psychologist at the Bone Marrow Transplant/Leukemia Program at Northside Hospital and Juanita McReynolds, a long-time survivor.


Dawn Speckhart, PhD

Dawn has been a Clinical Health Psychologist at the Bone Marrow Transplant/Leukemia Program at Northside Hospital in Georgia since 2002.

It is normal to experience fear after cancer as no one can guarantee 100% that your cancer will not recur.

50-70% of patients experience moderate to severe forms of anxiety/depression about this.

Some fear can be helpful as it keeps you compliant with your healthcare.

Too much anxiety can affect your overall quality of life though. For example, if you are overly fearful, you may have difficulty transitioning back into daily life and miss important moments that probably could have been safe for you to be a part of.

Ways to Cope with Anxiety

  1. Be aware of what your triggers are. Are there certain spaces, television ads, or symptoms that make your anxiety worse?
  2. Educate yourself on what recurrence would look like. Ask your doctor what to look for. Is there anything in your control? Any medications that could be helpful? Most the time there is little you can do that would cause or not cause a recurrence.
  3. Find ways to cope with things that are outside your control.
  4. Make a plan to deal with triggers. Perhaps bring someone to your appointment that soothes you, find ways to distract yourself, etc. Know these feelings will decrease once your appointment passes.
  5. Talk about it. Find ways to vent, problem solve, and to let people in. If you keep stuffing feelings down, they are more likely to burst out in a way that is less controlled by you.
  6. Consider joining a support group.
  7. Organize your thoughts and plans, name your feelings.
  8. Consider seeing a therapist and try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Adjusting thoughts can reshape feelings.
  9. Practice mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, prayer, and deep breathing. Focusing on the present and positive can strengthen you.
  10. Remember that time decreases fear. You can still be triggered but anxiety usually decreases as time goes on.

Juanita McReynolds, Peer Mentor, AML survivor of 24 years, and overall amazing lady

  • • BMT 1996, had cGvHD, developed diabetes from steroid, depression, various infections
  • • Felt lonely with limited guests, despair, anxiety, fear of more complications
  • • I comfort myself by thinking I am missing now, but I hold onto a lifetime full of events.
  • • I had to be convinced by my oncologist that we did not go through this journey for me to get a reoccurrence.
  • • I focused on what I could do that was in my control to prevent other cancers.
  • • I did become alarmed with any irregularities, but I just got them checked out.
  • • I experienced insomnia and the fear of death which I got a sleeping aid from my doctor to help me.
  • • I used music, guided imagery, and my faith to keep my anxiety down.
  • • God set things in place for me to survive.
  • • Sometimes I even had survivor’s guilt. I chose to honor those that passed by doing the most with the life I had.
  • • I received counseling and went to support group.
  • • I found joy in sharing my story and helping others.
  • • I remembered at each visit how lucky I was to be alive.
  • • Time helped heal my fears and I appreciate my life and that of others so much more

We acknowledge and thank the following Link Partners for their ongoing support.

• The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
• Incyte Corporation
• Pharmacyclics & Janssen