Coping With Metastatic Cancer

by Brittany McNabb

Coping with metastatic cancer, advanced cancer, and cancer recurrence can be especially intimidating because patients are left to wonder "Is my cancer spreading?" and "How do I cope emotionally with metastatic cancer?" 

Cancer Cells

Here are some answers to questions about metastatic cancer, and some suggestions on how to cope. 

What is metastatic cancer?

Metastatic cancer is cancer that has spread from the initial site to other parts of the body. Cancer cells can metastasize away from the primary tumor and travel through the bloodstream or lymph system. Sometimes the cancer cells can die and other times they can settle in another organ and start to form a new tumor(s). There is no clear explanation for metastatic cancer; it might depend on the type of cancer. Often cancer cells travel "downstream" to the next organ or lymph nodes. For example, breast cancer can spread to the lymph nodes under the arm. 

Can metastatic cancer be prevented?

Preventing Cancer

Metastatic cancer cannot always be prevented, but one of the best chances is to find, remove, and destroy the cancer cells early. In some cases, after a cancer tumor is removed, the patient will undergo treatment to make sure all the cancer cells are destroyed such as chemotherapy or radiation. 

What is advanced cancer? 

Stage Iv Cancer

Advanced cancer is often referred to as a cancer that cannot be cured. The American Cancer Society says that advance cancer is,

"Different health professionals may not mean the exact same thing use when they use the term advanced cancer. In this document, when we refer to advanced cancer, we are talking about cancers that cannot be cured. That means that these cancers will not go away and stay away completely with treatment."

Metastatic cancers are not always advanced cancers; some metastatic cancers can be treated and cured even after they have spread. 

What is cancer recurrence?

Cancer Recurrence

Cancer recurrence is cancer that has returned after being treated and undetected for some (undefinable) amount of time. There are three types of cancer recurrence: local recurrence, regional recurrence, and distant recurrence. Some people blame themselves when cancer comes back; while it is smart to eat healthy, exercise, and attend routine checkups, there is most likely nothing you could have done to prevent your cancer from recurring. 

How do I cope with metastatic cancer?

Coping With Metastatic Cancer

1. Allow yourself time to process the news.

 2. Learn how you can effectively deal with your worry and fear of the unknown. Worry can cause anxiety in the mind and physical anxiety; it may take some time, but if you can learn how you can handle worry and fear then you can take steps towards accepting things. This could mean finding relaxing hobbies, keeping a journal, or talking about things.

3. Find out what hope means to you and where to find it.

4. Reach out to others so you don't feel like you are suffering alone. You can do this by talking to cancer survivors or connecting with people on WhatNext. Many WhatNexters are living with terminal cancer and their stories can be very inspiring. You can connect with people of your exact diagnosis by going to "Diagnoses", searching for yours, and by going there you can see the active WhatNexters with that diagnosis. You can also choose to connect with people of your age, gender, disease, stage, geography, etc. By going to "People" on the top toolbar and filtering choices on the left side of your screen.

5. Get your family and caregiver on your side my letting them support you.

6. Attend all appointments, listen to your doctor's advice, take all your medications, and stay on top of side effects.

7. Focus on the things that are within your control.

8. Speak to survivors about their success stories.

9. Talk to a counselor if you are having trouble processing your disease. 

10. When you feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, take it one day at a time.

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