Fear Of Recurrence Workshop

Dr. Scott Siegel Clinical Psychologist at Helen F. Graham Center
Dr. Scott Siegel Clinical Psychologist at Helen F. Graham Center

I told you I’d do it, it just took me a little while to get here. The past two days have been so busy …

Okay, here we go.

The first warm day following this deep freeze winter was an early taste of spring with all the hopes, thoughts, and fancies renewal seems to bring.

It was Wednesday.

That evening I moseyed over to the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center in Newark Delaware on the Christiana Care Campus to attend a “Fear of Recurrence” workshop put on by the Delaware Chapter of Leukemia Lymphoma Society.

The speaker for the night was Dr. Scott Siegel the center’s head oncology psychologist. I guess I could list his bona fides, but he was my psychologist when I was sick and I think he gets five out of five chemo bags (my highest rating).

“We are going to talk about some heavy stuff,” he said. “Hopefully you come away more empowered.”

He was right.

I came away with a couple of thoughts from his talk.

Fear of recurrence can become a debilitating condition if not handled early in a survivor’s post-treatment world.

And that’s where it gets tricky. This is an emerging field of study and there is only a little bit of research so far.

Even so, Dr. Siegel said a good definition of Fear of Recurrence could be, the worrying, anxiety, fear that cancer will return, relapse, and spread, or that a new type of cancer will develop. It may not even be conscious behavior, but may manifest itself in symptom checking, irritability, or a general feeling of hopelessness.

Not only that, but for many survivors this feeling doesn’t ebb with time and it can be triggered by such things as follow-up appointments, anxiety over test results, hearing about cancer in all forms of media (movies, TV, news, magazines), and anniversaries of diagnosis.

There is a huge chasm, he said between, survivors and non-survivors typified by comments such as, “Why can’t he/she accept the good news? Doesn’t he/she realize that it is over?

Meanwhile the survivor is waiting for the next shoe to drop.”

Dr. Siegel said dealing with this is hard but, there is hope and used a four seasons metaphor to describe it all.

Autumn – Is a season of acknowledgement. This is a period when we acknowledge what happened or what is happening. The trick, he said, is not to do this acknowledging alone, but rather invite friends, family, and loved ones. BTW, if you don’t invite them, they likely won’t volunteer, there are unwritten conventions that need to be adhered to.

Winter – Is the season of experiencing. In this phase you experience the feelings. At the same time the people you’ve invited in also share their experiences with you and what they are going through. There may be some anger in this phase, but it is an important part of the letting the invitees in – remembering of course, they too have lost and are also scared. In this phase you embrace heathy distractions such as exercise, writing, art, poetry, and maybe professional counseling if it becomes necessary.

Spring – Is where you adjust to the losses of the cancer journey. We’ve all lost something. Some have lost financial security, some physical ability, some peace of mind, some have lost friends, and some have lost _______. It is important to try and figure out what the gap is of what you’ve lost and what you’ve found on your journey and somehow come to a place where you embrace and exploit the changes and gains.

Summer – Is a time of renewed energy. You look forward, take stock in what unfinished business you have and move to experience it all. It is time of forgiving and being forgiven. It is often a time, he said, of teaching and giving back.

I got the impression that Dr. Siegel’s four season approach to dealing with fear of recurrence should/could begin early in the cancer journey. Also that it is a continuous loop and a certain amount of anxiety is unavoidable and comes from being a survivor and that only through reaching out to those around us can we hope to control the fear.

To read more from Dr. Siegel go to http://bit.ly/1BESQDH


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