Finishing Active Treatment

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

MAY 24, 2018

As many of you know, I am very interested in survivorship, the quality of life after active cancer treatment. It is regularly my experience that many people manage the months of chemotherapy and/or radiation and then emotionally fall apart once it is done. During the weeks of multiple medical appointments, figuring out how to handle side effects, taking long naps, and trying to juggle all of life's other responsibilities, it is often just not possible to think about the emotional and existential impact of what has happened. Only afterwards is there time and space to consider and begin to process the experience. 

I have written a book about this: After Breast Cancer: A Commonsense Guide to Life after Treatment. I have recommended it to many patients who were treated for something other than breast cancer. A few chapters are breast cancer specific, but most are equally relevant to someone who has had GYN or lung or colon or any other kind of cancer treatment. I talk about relationships, work challenges, children, intimacy, genetic testing, organizing ongoing medical care, etc. It is available at Amazon and book stores, but lots of libraries have it, too.

 Finishing active treatment for cancer can be a complicated experience. On the one hand, you are delighted to be done with chemotherapy and/or radiation. On the other, it may feel that you are losing your close relationships with your caregivers and being asked to solo too soon. Once the treatments are over, you may find that you are more worried about your future health. While those powerful drugs and radiation rays are doing their work, it is easier to feel protected.

            You are also likely to find that your friends and family don’t understand your feelings. As far as they are concerned, it is over. You know better. It will take approximately as long as the total duration of your treatment to fully regain your physical and psychological health. Over the next months, you will feel increasingly well, but there are sure to be some harder days. give yourself plenty of time to recover from all you have been through.

            .A note about hair: if the universe were fair, your hair would be its normal length tomorrow. Since that is unfortunately not the case, you can expect that it will grow approximately half an inch a month. Most women are able to stop wearing a wig/hat/scarf approximately three months after the final chemotherapy. You may also find that your eyebrows and eye lashes fall out now (and how infuriating is that!); they will reappear much more quickly than the hair on your head.

            Take pride in what you have accomplished and welcome to the rest of your life.