Life Post Breast Cancer Treatment
Bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction? Check.
Port insertion surgery? Check.
6 weeks of chemo? Check.
Lymph node surgery? Check.
28 radiation treatments? Check.
Congratulations, Beverly! You are finished with breast cancer treatment! You need two additional surgeries this fall but “treatment” has been completed. You are free to move about the world.
It is exciting! I am done with treatment! I’m back to life as usual. Woo hoo!
Except...well...I can’t seem to get back into my groove. Bouncing back has been harder than I anticipated. Most breast cancer warriors will tell you that it is difficult to find a new normal after treatment ends. The process of being poked, prodded and radiated is not always pleasant, but it brings with it a whole team of professionals watching over you like a dutiful mother hen. Not to mention, we get to be an active participant in a process that is killing our cancer cells every day. Then the much anticipated day arrives when treatment is over and we are on our own again, in a foreign, post-cancer treatment world. It’s no wonder that many breast cancer warriors fall into a depression or struggle with serious anxiety at this point in their journey.
I have to be honest with you. I started this blog two weeks ago and it was a litany of all of my frustrations. I was having a bad day, feeling overwhelmed with life post-cancer treatment and my emotions were all over the place. To quote Whitney Houston “I’d run from myself, but there’s nowhere to hide...”. My husband walked into my office as I was trying to write and I burst into tears. The tears and ensuing conversation with my husband brought emotional relief. Much reflection over the last two weeks has brought insight into my struggles and finally, feelings of peace. My hope is that my fellow warriors who are about to encounter this phase of their journey will read this and know that they are not alone, they are not going crazy and that it does get better.
Once treatment ends, we start looking better...the glow comes back in our skin, the radiation redness fades, our hair starts to come back and we aren’t at the cancer clinic every day. Our fast paced world sets the expectation that we should jump right back into life and move forward. Unfortunately, it takes several months for our bodies to fully recover from radiation and the lingering side effects of chemo. For some women, it takes even longer. For me personally, I have most of my energy back, but the radiation fatigue still hits hard when I least expect it and it feels like a slap in the face. Patience is a virtue and I am always the least patient with myself.
We also have to learn to adjust to a new body. We grow used to our expanders, implants or scarred chest without reconstruction, but it can be overwhelming to move on with a body that will never be the same. I was hit with this reality two weeks ago, when I went to the pool for the first time. I hopped into a tube for the lazy river and quickly learned that my new body would not be comfortable leaning on my chest in the oversized tube. I had to lie on my back. Everyone around me was laughing and relaxing but I was hit with another slap of reality...my body will never be the same.
As I’ve pondered the challenges of moving forward over the last two weeks, I have also found some positives in this part of my journey. I find that I have an overabundance of appreciation for the smallest things in life right now. My boys laughing together, my sweet little dog galloping across the room with a smile on her face, the sun peaking over the hill as the day begins. Life is full of challenges, whether we are dealing with post-cancer treatment or any other trauma in life. We owe it to ourselves to be patient and process the emotions and changes. Only then can we begin to move on and look for the positives. I’m thrilled to be in a better place with all of this than I was two weeks ago. I hope you can find peace in your own journey, as well.
Thanks for reading!
Beverly McKee (The Breast Cancer Warrior)For more information about The Breast Cancer Warrior, to follow my blog or if you know a long term (25+ year) breast cancer survivor, please visit my website at www.breastcancerwarrior.org.
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