I remember getting to the end of my breast cancer treatment and sitting down to plan the page for my website for this stage of the “journey”: the moving on stage. And I drew a blank. With the treatment stage it was relatively easy – I could explain what to expect and give practical tips on how to help get through the treatments. But what could I advise someone who had finished their treatment? Because getting to the end of treatment is just the beginning of the next chapter; a rather tricky chapter and one that is different for everyone.
For those of us coming out the other side of treatment for primary breast cancer with a NED (No Evidence of Disease) result, there is, of course, an element of elation. Treatment has ended and has thankfully been successful. Thoughts turn to ways in which we can live our lives to the fullest. We are brimming with love, appreciation and plans for the future (ones that we dared not consider during treatment for fear of not making it through).
But there is also the flip side. We are left with an array of physical side effects with which we need to contend. Things such as extreme-out-of-this-world-fatigue, scar pain, joint pain, hot flushes, skin problems and on and on and on. Then there are the lingering emotional issues, including; questions like ‘why me?‘; the ‘what-if’ scenarios going round and round in our heads; and the full-on fear which seems to kick in at this stage. And let’s not forget the host of mental issues like anxiety and brain fog, both of which make it incredibly difficult to go about our normal day to day routines. Suddenly, we go from dealing with treatment on a day to day basis when all we are thinking about is coming out the other side, to literally being thrown into a vast ocean of uncertainty with no life vest and having to deal with a multitude of things that, quite frankly, we had not expected nor been warned about.
And it is this point – the point between being a cancer patient and being able to put the cancer behind you, that is particularly difficult for a lot of us. Take me, for example. When I was going through my treatment, I looked forward to the treatment ending so that I could jump back into my normal life at the point where I had previously stepped off. I was really surprised when this didn’t happen. At first I felt completely lost. I felt that I was in a no-mans-land between being a cancer patient and living my life after cancer. I was lost, scared and incredibly anxious. Take a look at the article I wrote for Mission Remission about this stage.
But, gradually, we start to tread the water of this vast ocean of uncertainty. After the initial shock of realising that things don’t actually go back to normal, we gradually learn how to cope. Help is there if you know where to look (for starters take a look at my page on life after treatment where I have included lots of links to fabulous resources) and gradually a few life boats start to appear: the breast cancer community on social media; online forums; moving on courses; cancer centre drop-in sessions and courses; talking to therapists; supportive friends and family; reading articles from people in a similar position; and writing about our experiences (more on this another time because I am a HUGE advocate for writing as therapy).
Slowly, with help from those life-lines, things can improve even if they don’t go back to “normal”. Look at me. A year and a bit post-chemo, and 5 months post-Herceptin, I can safely say that whilst I am not back to my pre-cancer normal, I have definitely slipped into a new normal without even realising it. I feel better physically, emotionally and mentally. Much much better. I am not where I want to be, but I am pretty confident I can get there.
Please take a couple of minutes to watch this film made with Breast Cancer Care as part of the Breast Cancer Film Project, about the reality of moving on after breast cancer…