Facing the fear of cancer recurrence

It’s always heartwarming and joyous to hear the success stories from people who have fought the battle against cancer and won. However, even after the “all clear” or “in remission” message is given, there still may be the fear of cancer recurrence that rears its monstrous head, which can cause anxiety and unrest.

Sana Keller, healthy lifestyle coach, cancer survivor coach and owner of Health Unlimited, is currently researching the fear of recurrence in cancer survivors for her doctor of philosophy degree dissertation in integrative medicine. She is looking for cancer survivors to participate in a study group.

The initial phase of Keller’s study will include gathering cancer survivors who will be asked to fill out a brief questionnaire. She will then randomly select 25 of the questionnaires and those participants will be asked if they would be willing to take part in a specially designed program that includes four individual sessions of learning how to take charge of thoughts with Keller. There is no charge for the four individual sessions. Upon completion of the four sessions, participants will be asked to complete a questionnaire similar to the initial one.

Keller said she would like to have the questionnaires completed and returned by the end of April and start the sessions with participants in May. She plans on graduating in October.

There is no specific age range or gender that Keller is focusing on in her study, although she would like to stay away from pediatric cancer. “I don’t want to limit it (the study) on a type of cancer,” she added. “And it doesn’t matter if you had cancer 10 years ago.” If a person has had cancer at any time and is a survivor, then he or she can participate in the study.

The four individual sessions will focus on minimizing the fear of cancer recurrence, using the model of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, which is a form of interpersonal communication that helps transform the way in which people think and act. It provides education, self-awareness and effective communication to change thought patterns and emotions in positive ways. Neuro-Linguistic Programming also provides a method of taking charge of your thoughts, which can have a positive impact on your health, both short- and long-term. It’s a brain-language program that helps you take control of your thoughts, which can be overwhelming, Keller said.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming has been used often in education with children, Keller said. Once a person has the tools from that model, he or she can use them for the rest of his or her life. “It’s exciting to see how it’s being used in education with kids,” Keller continued. “A lot of us don’t get this until we’re older.” Neuro-Linguistic Programming can help people take control of the negative thoughts that tend to take over in their heads, she said. Those negative thoughts can often be thought of as voices in your head, Keller added, but knowing how to handle and control the negative thoughts is valuable in all areas of life. From the sessions involving Neuro-Linguistic Programming, the participants will have the tools to use for the rest of their lives.

“When you think negative thoughts, there is a change in the white blood cell count, so when people are in fear, it can compromise their immune system,” Keller said. “When your white blood cell count is elevated, it can make a difference.” Fear causes hormone levels to rise and in turn causes the immune system to become compromised, Keller continued, because it affects white blood cell activity.

Keller said she chose to focus on the fear of recurrence in cancer survivors along the way in her journey to her advanced degree. “When I started, I didn’t think it would be in this direction, but I felt it’s an unmet need and should be addressed.” Of cancer survivors, 80 percent of them have the fear of recurrence and there haven’t been effective ways of managing it, she added. Studies have shown that the fear of recurrence doesn’t diminish over time.

The hope is that the Neuro-Linguistic Programming in the study will help minimize cancer survivors’ fear of recurrence, Keller said. In turn, that would promote a healthier internal environment for people’s bodies as well as a healthier frame of mind with an overall goal of improving their long-term quality of life.

“The impact of cancer has left its footprint in all our lives,” Keller said in the introduction of her dissertation. “Whether one is newly diagnosed with cancer, a cancer survivor, or has family members or friends with cancer, the many fears associated with a cancer diagnosis, including fear of recurrence, can cause a huge emotional toll.”

People interested in participating in Keller’s study can download the questionnaire from her website, (healthunlimited.biz), under the link “Cancer Survivor Study Forms to Print.” Questionnaire forms are also available at The Natural Health Shoppe at Market Place on Broadway or the MarketPlace Pharmacy on Broadway and 20th Street. People with questions can contact Keller at 928-830-1235 or email