Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a particular “disease” that plagues my generation. Thanks to Instagram and Facebook, we all choose to show the best sides of our lives. We stay away from depression, fights with our significant others, and poor performance reports. We spin the negative with the best T.V. personalities on the networks.
Somehow, in the midst of scrolling through perfect life after perfect life, this sense of FOMO developed. We wanted what we didn’t have – though not an uncommon occurrence (the grass is always greener, right?) or even a new thought – it morphed into this longing competition to appear as if you were never missing out. As if you always had it together. It changed my generation into this perfect Instagram filter that we all couldn’t get enough of.
I used to have FOMO. Back in 2014 when I was first diagnosed, I hated seeing the perfect lives of everyone I followed or was friends with. I had a secret fear that I was not only missing out on what was happening in their life, but also my own. I was 25 and should’ve been discovering who I was or what I wanted to be, or having a quarter-life crisis. But instead, I was having a life-or-death crisis, one that couldn’t be solved by copious amounts of fro-yo (though I did try to convince my doctors that might work).
For that entire year, FOMO plagued me. Every time I would accidentally find myself scrolling through Instagram or mindless perusing Facebook, it would hit me. Not only was I just afraid of missing out – I actually was missing out. I was missing out on participating in life outside of the hospital, sure, but I was also missing out on my own life.
Once I admitted that to myself, it was easier to let go. To embrace every perfect happening in everyone else’s life. To cheer along with them. Even though my life was at a standstill, I could still participate in my friends’ lives. After all, I didn’t want them to stop living their lives; I wanted them to live them extra hard!
So I shook FOMO. I swatted it away like the nasty insect it is every time it started buzzing near me. I wanted to go back to living my life, not trying to broadcast it in the perfect light – because I am not perfect, not by a long shot. I mess up all. the. time.
But just as soon as FOMO was gone, a new annoying insect appeared. It happened around the time that I was moved to maintenance.
Obviously, I’m talking about Fear of Cancer Recurrence (FOCR – because the post makes more sense when I abbreviate it).
This fear was not something I could easily rationalize away. This fear wasn’t about missing out on life; it was about missing out on the sign that could save my life.
With FOCR, you’re counting up symptoms and adding them to your growing list that explains to your oncologist why you are sure your cancer is back this time. With FOCR, you’re worried you might mistake a big bruise for nothing when it really is something. Every shortness of breath, every dizzy spell, every headache, every other ache, you’re wondering if it’s back. It’s this constant fear that you didn’t get rid of your cancer the first time, and now it will come back stronger.
I have awful FOCR; I fully admit (to my doctor) that I self-diagnose and sometimes will get sucked into hours of reading about how new petechiae on my leg means I’m dying. But I talk about it; I eventually ask a medical professional; I try not to keep it inside for too long. And if I’m anxious about it, I’m fortunate enough to be able to just ask my doctor to order a blood test. Unfortunately, depending on which type of cancer you have it’s not always that easy to check (as you know).
I still haven’t shaken FOCR, and based on speaking with others I’m not sure if I will for a long time. But I have learned when to recognize it’s kicking in and how to address it. For me, it’s talking to someone (a friend or my fiance) just to put it out in the open and not bottle it up, and then if I can’t shake it, I make an appointment with my doctor. I’ve learned that rather than letting my fingers do the walking on Google, my energy is better spent talking to someone or taking a step to speak to a doctor.
Taking ownership of my medical care and being aware of which serious symptoms to look for have helped me not freak out about every bruise (though sometimes I still do). If you’re not sure where to start, ask your doctor or oncologist for help. If you’re really struggling and it’s affecting your life after chemo, try asking for a referral to a therapist that specializes in oncology care.
After everything, we shouldn’t have to live in a constant state of fear that another battle is just around the corner. We should be able to start making up for the time we lost. So let’s try together to take ownership of our health and talk to people when that annoying alarm goes off in our head instead of heading to Google.
Do you have FOCR? What types of tools do you use to help you live with it?