From One Patient to Another
Your doctors probably haven’t said it, but if you have met any cancer survivors, you will know that the battle does not always end when they tell you that your treatment is over. There are physical and mental challenges ahead, and navigating ‘the new normal’ that is remission, is not always easy. The expectation that we have on ourselves or that others may put on us, to ‘just get better’ is often unrealistic and harmful. We have offered some advice on how to be kind to yourself and navigate this often-difficult time.
1. You are different now, and that is okay.
It is hard to accept change, especially when it is you that has changed. You are different now. It may be harder to empathise with others struggles the minutia of their simple lives may come off as tone-deaf to you. You may be angry, at others or just the world for what you have had to endure. You may find your gratitude for the every day begin to fade and you may not like the person you feel you have become. It is easy to wish you were more naïve to life but you are wiser now and you have learnt that struggle is relative. Yours may have been harder than most but you are not ignorant to pain and you should use that as your strength. It is hard to not feel defined by cancer, even after treatment, but strive to become the new you that you now want to become.
2. Your Mental health doesn’t go away just because cancer does.
When we are in treatment, our brain often goes into fight or flight, we are in a storm of prognosis and pain, and we don’t have time to register what has happened to us fully. Many cancer survivors find that remission is more of a mental struggle than treatment. Often loved ones don’t know this is the time you most need support, and you may feel there is an expectation to pick up and continue the life you had before cancer. It can often feel like no-one cares, but remember, people are reactive – not proactive.
3. Don’t be afraid to seek support.
Many survivors have PTSD (link information of PTSD due to cancer*) from their treatment and may gain chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety and many other mental health struggles as a result. You have been through more than most people will ever go through and if there ever a time to seek counselling or support in understanding all that has taken place, now is the time to help you compartmentalize your struggle. If you are finding that your loved ones aren’t able to understand how you think or feel, cancer support groups often provide an understanding platform of people who have been through the same thing.
4. Remission is a marathon, not a sprint.
Getting back to your schedule cannot and should not be rushed. Take things slowly; do not expect your mind or your body to be ready because you say it should be. Be patient and try not to compare your race to that of others, and even other survivors – treatments differ, people’s bodies are different, people’s trauma varies. Try to be as honest with your work about where you think you may be physically and mentally after treatment to set realistic expectations for yourself and others.
5. Try to exercise but take it at your own pace.
Physical activity is a constant reminder of what you were once capable of but don’t let that hinder your potential for progress. You may no longer be able to do things physically that you once could and that is a hard pill to swallow but it is still important for your health to do what you can. Get a walking buddy, a specialised PT, join a class or a gym – try your best.
6. Your body has changed; it has been put through the wringer, and it’s doing its best.
You may find that you have new stretch marks and scars, your body may look a different size or scale, and you may even have lost a part of your body that you now realise how much you truly loved. Some of these things may improve or fade over time, but they are the rubble that stands as a reminder that it truly happened. It is hard accepting these things, and it is often hard to appreciate your body as a result. Try to remember that this body was poked, prodded, battered and bruised and still made it out the other side. Know that beauty is most evident in how you wear your scars and bruises and be proud of the new unique you.
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