As many of you know, I have spent a lot of time thinking/writing about life after cancer treatment. Note that I did not say life after cancer because that has an entirely different, and elusive, meaning.
Many people, especially many psychologically healthy, high-functioning people, get through the treatment part quite well. They focus on what they must do any given day; they get to their appointments, fill their prescriptions, take the medications as directed, and complain only sometimes. They try to find the humor in being asleep by 7:00 every night or being bald or feeling that the Radiation Department, rather than a favorite restaurant, is the place where everyone knows their name. And then the treatment ends.
It is then that the emotional fall out, similar in many ways to PTSD, begins for many of us. What just happened to me? How did I get through it? And what will the future bring? I loved one woman's description of imagining her life like a bombed out city that she needed to rebuild brick by brick by brick. There are some lucky people who seem to be able to able to quite quickly put it all behind them, insist that they are back to normal and carry on. My mother, who had breast cancer in her early 60s, was like that. I honestly don't think that she ever mentioned it again after the final treatment. If asked about it, she would look surprised and comment that it's over. I didn't inherit that gene.
For almost everyone, as long as we stay lucky and healthy, it slowly gets better. Eventually we don't think about it first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Eventually the cancer cloud moves from covering our head and shoulders to drifting above to slowly, slowly moving behind. Of course that storm cloud can reappear in a second and often does with the anxiety of a scheduled test or appointment or hearing of a friend's recurrence or death. But the fact remains that time helps.
As do some other strategies. This is a good essay from Cure Today about some of them:
Cancer Stress: Suggestions From a Breast Cancer Survivor
Of course I want medical research to catch up with and cure cancer. I also want tools on the front end of diagnosis and through the months and years that follow to cope with the anxiety, depression, worry, and post-traumatic stress disorder that can come from the cancer experience. Too many of us (cancer survivors) are too preoccupied and worn down by living with uncertainty and worry with the cancer diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship process.
Do you wish for a balance of being responsible about follow-up doctor visits and tests without being overly preoccupied emotionally and mentally by the disease? Cancer takes enough without letting it take from our emotions and thoughts too.
Cancer can’t have my soul. Enough already.
I think we are starting to get better balance. Research on the emotional aspects of cancer has begun as well as an improved awareness of how stressful just the process itself is, including how life-changing hearing the words “You have cancer” can be.
What should you do about the post-traumatic stress of finding out you have cancer?
Here is my advice. First, tell your doctors what you are experiencing emotionally. Doctors aren’t psychic. If they don’t know, they can’t refer you to resources that will help you. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. That said, let’s also get more tools into doctors’ hands so they can offer their cancer patients help for the mental and emotional aspects of this diagnosis.
When I was diagnosed, I found that my first resource was the Internet, but ultimately I got the most help from, well, real live people.
Read more: http://www.curetoday.com/community/barbara-tako/2016/02/cancer-stress-suggestions-from-a-breast-cancer-survivor