Coping with a recurrence

An ovarian cancer recurrence can leave you dealing with lots of different emotions. Here we explore some of these feelings and look at ways to cope.

We know facing an another diagnosis of ovarian cancer can lead to a lot of different feelings. Here we provide information and advice on how to cope with some of the emotions you may be experiencing.

Your feelings

Some people describe coping with recurrent cancer as living in limbo. You may feel that life will never be the same again and at this stage you can't imagine ever getting back to normal.

It's also not uncommon to find that your mood flits from worry about the future to feeling hopeful and positive. These fluctuations are very common as you begin to digest the information you've been given.

You may feel a range of emotions at first but many people come to accept that the cancer has become part of their lives and they feel able to continue their usual activities, despite ongoing treatment.  


It may have been a few months since you were first diagnosed with ovarian cancer or it may have been many years. It may have come completely out of the blue or be something you’ve been waiting for. Whatever your situation, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the shock of hearing that your ovarian cancer has returned. 


If you feel well and have no physical symptoms, you may be feeling particularly frustrated at not knowing where the cancer is or to what extent it has returned. This can lead to you feeling helpless and out of control, which is a very common reaction. 


It's normal to try to think of an explanation as to why your cancer has come back. You might blame yourself and feel guilty that you have let family and friends down. You may feel that you didn't try hard enough, eat the right foods or think positively enough. None of these are reasons for your cancer's return, so try not to feel guilty. 


Some women have described fear as the most difficult side effect of having recurrent ovarian cancer. You may be scared that the cancer will shorten your life. You may find yourself thinking over your past or having regrets about things you haven’t managed to do yet. It can be difficult to deal with these thoughts and the emotions that go with them and you may feel very drained. 

Fear is very understandable, but it may be possible to reduce the amount of fear that you feel by doing something good. This could be making contact with someone you’ve not spoken to in some time or doing some of the things you’ve always wanted to.  

If you find you’re feeling constantly restless, tense and anxious, you may benefit from some psychological support from a professional. They'll be able to help you to deal with difficult thoughts. Your clinical nurse specialist (CNS) can help you understand your fears or can put you in touch with other health professionals for further support. Many people say that the intense feelings of fear they felt at the time of the recurrence do get easier to deal with over time. 

Facing treatment again 

Facing a future involving lots of cancer treatments isn’t something that anyone looks forward to but, with experience, you’ll develop coping strategies. 

Set small, achievable goals 

Plan pleasant activities in between treatment. You’ll experience periods between treatment of feeling well and living an ordinary life. 

Accept offers of help 

Facing treatment again can be particularly difficult having experienced it before. You may dread the physical changes brought about by the treatment, particularly hair loss and fatigue. The extent that you dread the treatment can depend on your experience the first time around, so make sure to discuss any concerns with your CNS or oncologist, who will do all they can to ease your fears or anxieties. 

If you're the type of person who wanted information after your initial diagnosis then it's likely you'll want even more now. It's understandable that you’ll want to explore every avenue and most people look for any new treatments that might be available. This can be time-consuming and exhausting. Always remember that you can discuss your treatment with the medical and nursing team. It's okay to ask questions and share your opinion and experience of your treatment. 

Complementary therapies 

It's very common for people to feel that they would like to explore complementary therapies at this time. These are treatments carried out by trained practitioners which can be used alongside and in addition to conventional medical treatments. They can include yoga, acupuncture, massage and reflexology and more. This can give you a greater sense of control but it's always wise to discuss any complementary treatments with the medical staff.  

Our expert mini guide can answer your questions about the use of complementary therapies after an ovarian cancer diagnosis, including what complementary therapies are, the difference between complementary and alternative therapies, and how and where you can find out more. Read Ovarian cancer and complementary therapies [PDF] or order a copy for free

Worrying about pain 

You may be afraid that the cancer treatment won’t be able to control the disease and that you may be in a lot of pain.

If you experience pain you can go through more stress and a lower mood, so it's important not to suffer in silence. It’s unlikely that you'll be in severe pain and most pain can be controlled with regular painkillers. If these are some of your fears, be sure to talk to your CNS or oncologist as soon as possible so they can help you. 

Support when things feel tough 

It’s completely understandable that a recurrence of ovarian cancer can affect your mental health and emotional wellbeing. If you have the odd 'duvet day' when you feel upset that’s okay. But if this is becoming more common or your emotions are feeling out of control, you may need some extra support.

Read more about professional support that may be available to you

It may also help to: 

Your clinical nurse specialist (CNS) may also be able to put you in touch with others locally. Most hospitals will also have links with a local cancer support centre, such as Maggie's or Macmillan, which might offer a range of mental health support for free. 

Last reviewed: February 2022

To learn more about our review process, take a look at our information standards.

Back here again printed guide

Back here again

A guide for anyone whose ovarian cancer has come back.