Living life after a diagnosis of breast cancer, for many of us, is a balancing act of living in today, while planning for the future, and trying our best to keeping the “what ifs” at bay.
It has been 16 years since my first breast cancer, but every so often something can take me back to the challenge of getting on with life after active treatment. Not long ago, I met a woman on her last day of active treatment. I was on the elevator in the cancer center, when a woman got on with tears running down her face. I thought for a moment she had received bad news.
I asked if I could be of help. She looked at me and the words just spilled out ”What do I do now? I’ve been in treatment for breast cancer for over a year: chemo, surgery, more chemo and radiation. Now the physical part is over, but how do I get cancer out of my mind?
For one year, my schedule has revolved around treatment and feeling sick from treatment. How do I get back on track, how do I feel better, less afraid? When does cancer stop being the first thing I think about when I open my eyes and the last thing I think about before I close my eyes and try to sleep?”
I suggested we get a cup of coffee around the corner, away from the cancer center. When we had ordered, I shared how it was for me. We talked about the following activities that can make the transition from active treatment to getting on with life post treatment a bit easier.
- If you can afford to take a few days away, preferably with a companion who is upbeat and supportive, just getting away from all things cancer can help to bring closure.
- Join a support group. There is nothing like the comfort and support that those who have “been there” can give you.
- Be good to yourself. Take time for socializing, get rest, try something new, do something just for fun.
- Take an inventory of what you want to change in your life. You have just come through a life-changing experience. Give yourself permission to change whatever you can change. Give yourself permission to do something you always wanted to do…a new job, more education, travel, etc. Start with small changes and build to where you want to be.
- Train yourself to push the “what ifs” out of your mind…hard but possible to do.
- Stay away from toxic people, the ones who want to hear every detail of you cancer experience. Seek out the upbeat, positive people who are interesting and fun to be around.
- If you feel you need counseling, give yourself permission to get help. You have been through enough without suffering through depression and anxiety .
We spoke for while longer and then said our goodbyes, but not before exchanging email addresses.