Congratulations!-You’ve completed chemotherapy, “rang the bell” and have so much to celebrate, but wait, you’re not feeling celebratory?!!!
If you’ve gone thru any course of chemotherapy, you know how challenging it’s been, so when you’re finished there’s so much to celebrate and be thankful for. But not everyone is feeling ready to celebrate in the same way others may expect.
I found it really difficult when people assumed now that you’ve completed your treatments that you’re “all better” or “cancer free” and life is ready to pick back up where you left off!
First of all, anyone that has been diagnosed with cancer, knows cancer changes your life! In addition to the risk of recurrence, I’m not just speaking about in ways of health but emotional ways too. The ways you live your life, the people who you surround yourself with, the taking inventory of who you are and what you want in and out of life and what changes you may want or need to make. So now that you’ve completed your treatment, you can finally take stock of other important details and life will not necessarily be the same as it was before because maybe you don’t want it to be?
Then there’s the post cumulative effects of chemotherapy… Maybe you fared through your treatments “ok” without too many side effects from the neuropathy, skin peeling, hair losing, poor diet, no sex life, dehydration, joint pain, etc., and you think you’re done with all that! However for me, after the last treatment was actually the hardest and I think I was the least prepared for! I felt like I made it thru and survived and then several weeks later I found out what it was like to really hit a wall! For someone fairly active (I even kept up with lite exercise on the good weeks in between treatments) my energy level dropped so low I could barely get out of bed. My legs felt somewhere between jello and just completed a workout of heavy weight lifting (muscle soreness but weak). My breathing was challenged and felt like I constantly had to try to take a “deep breath” like after you just finished a good run! I then went thru a time where “chemo brain” took over with total confusion and couldn’t begin to process or make decisions, even minor ones like how to plan out my day…! Then came my nails- my fingers and toes began to turn thick white with lots of ridges. I’ve lost one big toenail and on the way to losing the other, while my fingernails just kept breaking where I’ve had to clip them so short I could barely file them too without it hurting. This along with sleepless nights and low blood count levels, no one really had explained the cumulative issues and how it would effect me weeks or months after completing treatment.
I did not feel prepared for the weeks that followed treatment ending. We’re given all kinds of handouts and information of what to expect during treatment, but what about after? It’s as though we finished this long road down hill and now we should be headed back up, but we’re not, this road is filled with ups and downs and we need to learn how to travel it for weeks and months. If I had understood more, maybe I could have paced myself even better..
I also found it very challenging after all of this to learn how to pick and choose my activities and work schedule. After all, I’m finished with treatments, just awaiting reconstruction surgery and it’s summertime, so how do I get back to my “normal” life? In my head I think of all the things I want to be doing, don’t want to miss out on (like I did the past 7 months) or feel compelled because my spouse has given up so much during my treatment I want them to get back to a more normal life as a couple. And of course, there is my 92 year old mom to assist along with my (adult) children to be there for and we’re welcoming new grand babies! So I accept a few invitations, plan a work schedule, play with my grandchildren, help my mother, say yes to my husband to go out to dinner more or join him for longer exercise walks but put that ALL together along with the continued variety of doctor and physical therapy appointments and BAM!! - you hit that wall running faster than you could ever have expected!!
Yes, we’ve completed chemotherapy and we’re survivors but we’ve paid a price for some quality of life. I'm told I "look great" but wish I felt great too! The good news is hopefully it’s temporary and will rebuild the “new me” even better and stronger than we were, but it just takes time. Listen to your body, give in to what you need, pace yourself, acknowledge how far you’ve come and try to live in the present. The days ahead won’t always be like this and when you’re ready and only you will know when that is, you will "ring your own bell" and celebrate life, not just the end of chemotherapy.
Modah Ani- I Am Thankful