Life After Cancer Treatment – Embracing Your New “Normal”

No matter what kind of Cancer you were diagnosed with, the treatments utilized to kill this life threating disease take a horrible toll on your body, both physically and mentally. The fatigue, nausea, muscle aches, and countless other side effects can make you long for the days when visits to the doctor did not consume your life.

I was diagnosed in September of 2016, and while my Chemotherapy, Radiation, and two surgeries seemed to go by in a blur, they were not without anger, frustration and sadness as every day was a constant struggle to adjust to what my new “normal” would be. There would be days where I barely had enough energy to get out of bed, others where I was in so much physical pain that it felt like my entire body had been run over by a freight train, and the tears when I would look in the mirror post surgery and be so upset by how Cancer had disfigured my body, making me wonder if I would look normal ever again.

It has been approximately four months since I finished the last of my Chemotherapy treatments for my Stage 3 Breast Cancer, and a little over a month since I had my reconstruction surgery, and I’m not going to lie, but life has been quite the struggle for me the entire time.  With a lot of trial and error, I have slowly begun to adjust to my new “normal”, and while I know I still have a long way to go, these simple tips have helped me attack each and every day with a positive outlook, instead of a negative one.

Your brain may not function as well as it used to

More commonly known as Chemo Brain, there is a good chance you have noticed that your brain is not functioning like it used to. You may find yourself forgetting simple things, like, did I clean the litterbox today, or remembering to remind your significant other to complete a certain task. For me, there have been days where I have felt like huge gaps in my day have gone missing. I can’t remember for the life of me what I did, or if I accomplished what I needed to do.

One of my first struggles was trying to remember when all my doctor’s appointments were. Sure I had them on a calendar in our kitchen, but many times I would forget to remind my husband, which would cause problems, especially if it was an appointment that he needed to leave work early for.  I began utilizing the calendar on my iPhone, which was shared with my husband, so he could check the calendar for any given day and know whether or not a doctors appointment was scheduled.

In order to ensure I accomplish everything that I need to on any given day, I have started utilizing a task list in my daily planner. Prior to my Breast Cancer, I could keep track of my to-do’s in my head, but my treatments took such a huge toll on my mind, that I could no longer accomplish what needed to be done without first writing it down. That way I had a reference that I could easily check off when the task was completed. This has helped me greatly in a few ways. It ensures I don’t forget to do something, and also gives me a sense of accomplishment when I can mark something as completed.

But by far the biggest frustration for me has been my inability to learn new things. This became quite obvious to me at work, prior to losing my job. My manager would show me a new task, and in the past, I could easily make sense of the task at hand and could come up with questions on what I did not understand or I needed clarification on. My post-treatment brain made me feel like a deer in the headlights on most days. I could hear the words, but I could not comprehend anything that was shown to me. I felt like a mess, and this is something I still fight with on certain days, especially after my monthly Zoladex shot.

In order to try and absorb new things, I do my best to take detailed notes on any new task that I learn. Prior to my diagnosis and treatment, I spent most of my professional life working as an IT Support Specialist, but my treatments robbed me of many of my skills that made me successful in that role. I have a hard time remembering processes that use to come to me like second nature unless it was something that was documented and easy to follow. Only time will tell if I am able to regain that functional part of my brain, or if those skills are gone for good.

Allow your body time to rest and heal

The biggest struggle with cancer treatment is that the treatments and the side effects that come along with them rob you of the life you have been so accustomed to living. Tasks you used to take care of on your own, need to be handled by a friend or family member because you just don’t have the strength or energy to do it yourself. This can make you feel useless and a burden to others, and it is one of the hardest things to come to grips with.

As you heal from treatment, it will take time for your body to heal and be able to handle the tasks that you used to do prior to your diagnosis. You so badly want to feel better, to feel like everything is back to normal, that you end up harming yourself, both physically and mentally, before your body is ready for it.

Like it or not, your body just went through one hell of a battle with itself, and if you’re reading this you won that battle and have kicked Cancer into remission, but the journey is still far from over. While the doctors may no longer be pumping you full of medications to kill the Cancer, the effects of your treatments will linger long after treatment has finished. You will need to listen to your body, and allow yourself to rest when you need to.

Even though I am approximately four months out from my last treatment, I am only now just starting to feel better, but I am in no way back to normal. Something as simple as a weekly trip to the grocery store will knock me on my butt. My entire body aches, and I feel exhausted, all from a task that I used to complete without any physical issues.

I still spend most evenings resting in bed, because I know I still have a long path of healing ahead of me, as you will as well. You need to take care of yourself, and that means resting when you need to. This may mean you will not be able to do certain things, but that is ok. Your health will improve with proper rest and care, allowing you to return to a normal life, whatever that normal may be for you.

These are just a few of the things that have helped me get through the day post cancer treatment. While I know there will probably be more as I adjust to my own “normal”, I hope that this information has helped point you in a positive direction so you can work towards a life that you will love, free from Cancer.

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