To you who can’t sleep due to cancer recurrence and metastasis anxiety


Illustration Jang Seon-hwan

“It has been ten days since the operation. I also performed total resection and resection for the 8th round of adenocarcinoma. Hormone therapy will also be required in the future. After surgery, the professor of oncology department tells me that the recurrence and metastasis rates are higher than those of other people compared to post-cancer chemotherapy. I can’t even sleep well… . (omitted) Maybe it’s good for me to spend the day worrying about things that won’t happen and regretting my choices in the past? I know all too well that I have to focus on positive thoughts and the present moment, but my heart doesn’t listen as I want it to.” After starting the series on fighting cancer, I receive emails of support from cancer patients or family members caring for cancer patients, or come across various stories in the comments. Among them, one of the most frequent complaints is about anxiety and worry about cancer recurrence and metastasis. I understand and sympathize with that anxiety and worry 100%. In the process of battling cancer, fears and worries about recurrence and metastasis come to me, opening the door to my heart. No matter how much I shout, “I don’t want to see you” or “Please get out,” these children won’t come into my heart and leave without holding on. At first, he scolded me for allowing such naughty children to come into my heart. ‘Why are you worrying about something that’s never going to happen? It’s not like you’, saying, ‘In that time, manage your diet, exercise more, and study more about cancer’.

Worry about recurrence
That feeling is also natural.

Fear, a very normal mind
By the way, I personally learned something while studying psychology and closely observing my feelings and thoughts. Anxiety, worry, and fear do not go away when you criticize yourself and ignore or suppress your emotions. There are books that you can take out when you are psychologically tired. This book is written by Hyeshin Jeong, a psychiatrist. In this book, Jung said, “Emotions are not something to be judged by the dichotomy of good and bad, right and wrong. He stresses that many people consider regret, irritability, helplessness, anxiety, and fear as bad emotions, but not necessarily. “If you ask deeply and fundamentally reflective questions, you will feel anxious and shaken, and the process of acknowledging and integrating while looking at complex forked paths is based on anxiety,” he explains. Psychoanalyst Seungwook Lee also points out the difference between normal anxiety and neurotic anxiety in existential psychology in his book. Normal anxiety describes that the anxiety you are feeling is consistent with the situation and that it is not suppressed. “When we sense death and face it, our will to life becomes more lively,” he said. On the other hand, neurotic anxiety says that there is little correlation between the content of anxiety and the actual situation, and it is characterized by suppressing and censoring one’s emotions. In my opinion, the anxiety that Bada-nim feels is ‘normal anxiety’. How hard it must be for your body to be diagnosed with cancer, have received chemotherapy and have had surgery with a drainage tube attached to it. It’s natural to not get a good night’s sleep at that time, and when you wake up in the dark night with your eyes open, you can’t help but think about something special. At that time, the most important thing is not to suppress or avoid those feelings, but to recognize them first. ‘Ah… I am very anxious… . I’m worried about recurrence or metastasis… . I want to be supported by someone right now,’ and I know my heart. Talking to me warmly as if I had become my mother, and I hugged me tightly. Then, miraculously, my mind calmed down. Specifically, keeping a diary or writing a letter to me is also a good idea. Write down on a piece of paper what your worries are right now and think about whether they are really reasonable and justifiable. This year, when I was suffering from extreme anxiety, I took an online lecture called ‘How to manage stress in cancer patients’. Yumi Lee, a counselor who was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been completely cured, gave a lecture. “If you change your thoughts, you change your feelings, and if you change your feelings, you change your behavior,” he said. At the same time, typical cognitive errors include the justifiable thinking that “must be so”, the ‘all or nothing’ dichotomous thinking, excessive generalization, catastrophic thinking that always thinks about the worst case, and thinking freely without asking directly. It was explained that there is mind-reading, etc. Acknowledge and acknowledge your feelings, but it is helpful to check if there are any cognitive errors in your thoughts. Thinking like ‘if you get cancer you will die’ or ‘if you have a headache, it is more likely that cancer has spread to your brain’ is a typical cognitive error. As I listened to the lecture, I came to know that after my cancer diagnosis, I was judging everyone in a dichotomous way, categorizing everyone into ‘people with cancer and those without cancer’. The fact that we are subconsciously envious and jealous of people who do not have cancer.

When your heart flutters with anxiety
Let’s be in solidarity with ‘me’ more than anyone else
Don’t be strong, let go of your strength
Psychoanalyst Lee Seung-wook says, “I wish we could be in solidarity with ourselves first before all solidarity in the world.” Solidarity begins with deep compassion and friendship for others, and I encourage you to build solidarity with yourself first with deep compassion and good friendship for yourself. Whenever my mind is shaken by anxiety about recurrence and metastasis, I always return to the ‘me’. It’s about being in solidarity with me. I delve deeper into myself, contemplating my feelings, emotions, and thoughts, focusing on what I like, where I want to go, who I want to meet, and what I don’t want to do. I try to warm up my stomach with a steamer or do small things for me like a foot bath. What if your heart still fluctuates after doing so? I think to myself, ‘Do what I can, and leave the rest to heaven’. Instead of pushing yourself hard, you lose your strength. Even at this time, I want to talk to patients who can’t sleep for fear of recurrence and metastasis. The feeling is right, and you’re not alone. Reporter from the Ministry of Social Policy ☞ News at a glance. Hankyoreh Subscribe

Journalist and mother of two children. (Co-author), et al. Currently on sick leave, I write about the cancer treatment process and the preciousness of life that I learned after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

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