Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Now What?

I've spoken with a lot of women who have gone through breast cancer and how they feel after treatment is over. There are common themes. Like, the relief that treatment is over, but the ensuing fear that now there is nothing in their body to prevent the cancer from coming back. At least when you're getting chemo or radiation you're actively fighting the cancer. But then treatment ends and all you're left with is waiting to see if your cancer will come back.

My friend and I call this the cancer monkey. It is always sitting there on your back and it's hard to ignore. I suppose one day that darn monkey goes away but how long does it take?

The other thing that comes up for a lot of women is that once they finish their treatment, especially chemo, people figure they are "done" with cancer and everything goes back to normal. Like, once your friends see that you have hair again, you are fine and don't need any more support. Maybe things are normal again for others but it is never normal again for someone who has gone through cancer. You go through something so huge and life-threatening, you successfully beat it--you can't just go back to the way things were before. I don't know if you necessarily try to find a "reason" that you were given cancer, but you feel like after going through something that big your life has to change in some way. Otherwise, what was the point of going through it?

And the support drops off at maybe the point where you need it the most (except for that initial, horrible time when you are first diagnosed). I met a woman who was struggling with this. Her treatment had ended several months earlier, her hair was back, she was back at her old job and her husband and friends were glad that everything was back the way it used to be. Except for her. She wasn't thrilled with her job before cancer, but now hated it and felt trapped. She didn't know what she wanted to do, but felt that she had to make some major change in her life after going through cancer. She couldn't go back to the way things were, even though her life before was fine. She said that for the first time she felt like she needed a cancer support group because no one else could understand what she was going through. And no one was checking on her on a regular basis to see how she was doing like they did when she was in treatment. Everyone assumed life was great for her because she had beaten cancer--what more could she ask for?

At the time I met this woman I was just starting treatment. I couldn't offer her any advice as I hadn't been there yet, but I could completely understand what she was feeling.

It's a weird thing, having cancer. And after.