A Beyond Blue reader who is also a cancer survivor has a wonderful blog called, “Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer.” I was inspired by her writing, even though I’ve never had to endure chemotherapy. This woman is one of the most courageous people I’ve met. She has gone through black, black holes only to emerge as a light for other people. I encourage you to visit her blog if you or a loved one has breast cancer or even if you’re in remission. I know her words will move you. They do me. Here’s an excerpt:
I am returning to this question again of what happens to us once treatment ends, as it is one that fascinates me and I never tire of hearing how others experience not just the immediate aftermath of the end of treatment, but the months and years that follow.
You live for the magic day that all treatment is ended and you can at last return to normal life. There is an expectation that when you walk out of hospital on that final day, your cancer story has ended. Now close the page on that chapter of your life and pick up the pieces where you left off and get on with your life. You are going to live, you are not going to die after all – so rejoice….go live your life, go live your happy ending.
But it’s not so simple. In fact the reality can be quite different. This magical day you’ve dreamed of can feel like the biggest anti-climax of your life. For me, it felt like that last day of exams, those important exams for which you had studied so hard for months and now the final exam is over but you are left emotionally and physically wrung out.
You start to pick up the pieces where you left off before you were diagnosed and you tell yourself you can get back to normal now that all treatment is over. So you wait and you wait for your life to return to normal…but does it ever? I don’t believe so – I believe we need to find a new normal. A new way of restoring balance to our lives and a new way of being in this post treatment phase. Besides, have we really cheated death? We have bought ourselves some more time certainly, but none of us, as the old joke goes, gets out of this world alive. There is, to borrow another cliche, nothing more certain than death or taxes and we will have to face our appointment with death another time. We know, more than most, that we cannot live our lives ignoring this fact.
We are not prepared for the tsunami of emotions that hit us at times. We can be filled alternately with relief and elation at being given a second chance and with anxiety, fear and uncertainty in the months and years after treatment ends. We’ve left behind the security of the hospital care, the doctors and nurses that has monitored us so closely for the past few months and we ask ourselves, who will keep such a close eye on us now? Who is watching to make sure the cancer really has gone away? What do you do about those aches and pains? Do they mean the cancer has returned? Are they related to treatment, your advancing age, a common cold or something more sinister? I certainly felt a form of separation anxiety as I walked away from the doctors and nurses who had been my life-line for almost a year of treatment. How could they just cut me loose like that, abandon me to my fate? I felt very vulnerable and afraid. No one said the words I wanted to hear “you are cured”, so it feels as if I was placed in some kind of limbo, not part of my old life, no longer part of my cancer battleground, and not sure of the future.
When I was going through surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, I felt as if I had a new full-time job on my hands, a project which took up all my time. It was structured around appointments and moved through defined stages to a clear goal in sight. I met new people and learned so many new things. When treatment ended, that structure fell apart.I had lost my job. My days were my own again, but I was unsettled and lost. My emotional and psychological landscape had changed dramatically and I needed to find a new way to be in the world. While the battle for survival ended, a new challenge was begining – how to make sense of the experience of cancer and integrate it into my new normal. Now the time for real healing begins.