THE NEW NORMAL
When treatment ends, you’ll find that you have new concerns – about how to view life, treatment related issues, worry about recurrence, you may have changed during treatment and now see the world in a new way.
After treatment, you might be surprised to find that you still have emotional ups and downs , fear and anxiety. While you might be happy, you might also feel sad, tired, anxious or scared. Try to face these feelings head on by:
- Celebrating with friends and family
- Finding ways to celebrate your life every day
- Putting reminders throughout your home, car office or in your phone to trigger positive feelings
- Feeling Normal Again. Also, know that you will feel normal again. Tell your friends and family how you feel. Although you may be in recovery, it takes time to deal with your physical and emotional changes, and to deal with all your feelings. Make sure to honor your body and try not to overdo it. You’re still recovering. Say “yes” to you and keep a slow pace. As you ease back into your “new normal”.
- Why Do Am I Still Worried and Scared? After treatment, often any pain or discomfort can bring new worries and anxiety. Make sure to talk to your provider if you have concerns about your health and any fears you might have.
- Follow up Scans and Tests. It’s also normal to feel anxiety about follow up tests and scans. Make sure to take someone with you to these appointments, and be pro-active in making and keeping your appointments.
- Body Changes. Your body may have changed due to surgery, you may have scars, hair loss, lymphedema, your period may have stopped temporarily, you may be in menopause, have chemobrain, weight gain, pain, muscle pain or other symptoms. Talk to your provider about this.
Finding your new normal takes time…and we are here to support you along the way. Below, is helpful information to support your journey.
Living as a survivor
Living as a survivor can be defined in many ways. Each person is unique, but there are three general ways in which to describe a survivor, based upon her experience at the time. The first description is called “acute survivorship” which is when the patient is being diagnosed and/or is in cancer treatment. The next level, immediately post-treatment, is called “extended survivorship” and this is usually measured in monthly increments. The next step after extended survivorship is referred to as “permanent survivorship” which is measured in years. There are many complexities to survivorship.
Life after treatment
Life after treatment is very different than when before your diagnosis, and it is also very different during your cancer treatment. Many aspects of your life have changed. Your appearance may be different; you may not be working; your finances might be more complex; and your relationships with your friends and family may have changed. In addition, you may have feelings of anxiety or guilt; you may need time to get back to your previous activity level; or you might need to build up your strength and endurance to return to work. However, as overwhelming as this may seem, there are many resources for cancer survivors, from support groups, to individual therapy, to vocational and financial counselors you can use to help you in your new life and new identity. Also, you may consider giving back to those who helped you through your experience, or you may want to help others with their battle with cancer. Life after cancer is an adjustment, but there are so many programs and resources in place to help you build your new life.
Being diagnosed with cancer and dealing with cancer treatment is enough to cause anyone to feel anxious. Anxiety can come from fear of tests, hospitals, or any treatment; it can also come from concerns surrounding your experience, fear or worry that you may not survive, or fear as to how your life will be after cancer, or concern about your family. Symptoms of anxiety include: uncontrolled worry; restlessness; irritability; tension; shaking; or dry mouth. If you are experiencing anxiety, it is important to seek help. You can always speak to your doctor, who may recommend a support group or a therapist, or your doctor may prescribe medication. Also, you can try to use meditation and relaxation exercises. Sometimes even just voicing your fears and concerns with a loved one or friend may help alleviate your anxiety.
“Scanxiety” is a term referring to anxiety before, during or after an exam or scan for a cancer survivor. This may be before you have an exam, during an exam, or while waiting for the results of the exam. There are a few ways to deal with this. First. keep yourself occupied through activities, such as hobbies, support groups, or socializing with others. Next, know the way in which you will be notified of the results (as in via phone or via email) so you can be prepared. Exercise may ease your anxiety and relax you; yoga and general relaxation may help you as well. Also, accepting that you feel this way, and being prepared for a scan or to hear results may help alleviate your anxiety. Finally, if you need to use medication to get through an exam or deal with your anxiety, speak with your doctor.
You may have survived cancer, but you also may have an increased sense of guilt. You may feel guilty for many reasons: that you didn’t notice your symptoms sooner; you were a burden on your family or friends; your illness or treatment may have been a significant financial burden; your treatment may not have worked like you thought it would; or that you have survived while other people may have not survived. However, guilt should be addressed as not dealing with it can lead to depression and is not very healthy.
Ways to address and overcome guilt is to accept that these feelings may come and go; you can seek solace or discover tools in which to address these feelings by going to a support group or to a counselor. Also, by being thankful and focusing on the positive elements in your new life may help reduce or counteract feelings of guilt.
A New Identity
Experiencing and surviving cancer can change you in many ways. Living as a survivor gives you a new identity. You may have different emotions, look at relationships in a new light, or you may take a serious look at your life in general. Maybe you’d like a more meaningful career, or maybe you’d like to work a less stressful job that would give you more time at home with your family. Cancer may cause you to look at your life through a new lens, and may encourage you to live your life differently as a survivor.
Dating can always be challenging, but dating after cancer can be a different experience. Cancer survivors may have some body image challenges, but once you feel confident, you should start dating. You should think of what you’d like as qualities in a partner and start from there. Consider when you’d like to tell a date or potential partner about your experience with cancer. This is a very personal decision; would you rather tell someone up front or wait and see if there is a relationship developing? Once you’re in a situation where you would like to be honest with the other person, practice how you’d like to tell the person. Being honest will prevent any future issues or possible resentment in your partner.
Your Emotions and You
Surviving cancer can take a toll on your body as well as your mind. You should reach out to others for support, through a support group, therapy, or through your family members or spouse/significant other. However, it may be helpful to use some techniques to deal with your emotions on your own. You may wonder why you got cancer, to why you survived cancer. It also may make you question your lifestyle before cancer to your new life now.
You may question whether your career is right for you, whether it is rewarding, or if you’d like to pursue a new path. Also, you may ponder your religious beliefs or morals. Either way, if you take the time to reflect, you may find a new path in life. Ways to help organize your thinking and your emotions into a positive or organized framework is to use a journal. Write down your thoughts with a pen and paper. Or maybe you’d like to blog about your experiences, if you are comfortable with a more public platform in which to express your feelings. You can look back on your feelings and see what your thoughts were over a certain period of time. This way of tracking and contemplating your feelings may lead you to a new path, a new career, or a new passion in your life as a survivor.
Surviving cancer is a difficult feat. Your physical appearance may or may not reflect your battle with cancer. Often, women lose their hair, have scars, have changes to their weight or shape, and sometimes have to have a mastectomy. This can have a negative impact on your self-esteem or make you feel less feminine and less attractive. However, you can get support via a support group, through your spouse or significant other, or through therapy. Also, there are many products that are available to cancer survivors, such as wigs, fashionable hair scarves, and prosthetic breasts. If you are able to exercise, this may make you feel more comfortable in your new body.