There was certainly no manual to read, no step-by-step guide to manage those first few years after my breast cancer diagnosis. None of it was easy, not the words, “I’m sorry, it’s cancer.” Certainly not telling my family and friends, or trying to assemble a care team, or wading through surgical choices and a round of IVF, then slogging my way through treatments, losing my hair and fertility. All of it was extremely hard, but what was baffling and unexpected, was how difficult it was to begin LIVING again after treatment ended.
While my friends were having babies, buying houses and advancing in their careers, I felt like I was floundering. I had just survived the fight of my life, but the reality was that I felt like I was losing at the game of life. Within that first year after treatment ended, I had to find and move to a new home, then resumed my coach training, and was struggling to make ends meet while jumpstarting my life and raising a 5 year old. I remember this internal panic like I had to make up for lost time and catch up to life that was moving too fast all around me. This was a time of being tossed about in a paradox of emotions, like waves crashing on a vulnerable life raft. All in one day, there was this feeling of being extremely grateful to have beaten cancer, and bowled over by the love and support I received in that year of treatment, yet baffled at how I could have gotten breast cancer as a healthy 36 year old person, and bitter that life had been disrupted. I felt love and gratitude towards my husband, and at the same time extremely uninterested in intimacy and unsexy in general. I was triumphant in the face of my diagnosis, and yet trepedacious under a potent cloud of recurrence worries.
I remember reaching out to someone at the Young Survival Coalition about a year after treatment ended. I asked her, “when will I feel normal again?” I thought surely I’d have my energy back 3-6 months after treatment ended. She kindly chuckled and said, “honey, I’m 5 years out from my diagnosis, and I still don’t feel normal.” It was an OH moment, realizing there was this race going on inside of me that was impossible to win.
Fast forward 9 years, I am co-leading a workshop called Ensuring our Emotional Well-being, sharing some of the wisdom and tools that I have learned along the way.
Completing cancer treatment and being considered in remission is a huge milestone and there is much to celebrate. However, there can also be challenges as we enter the surveillance period. Post-treatment is a time when we are no longer in “survival mode,” but have a chance to take a breath and reflect on our experience. It is also a time when we may feel alone and unsupported.
During cancer treatment, your doctors, nurses and support staff have been there with you, but what about after treatment is over? How do you deal with an understandable sense of isolation as you resume your life? How do you deal with the trauma and emotional toll of your diagnosis? What about the effect that your experience has had on your sexuality and relationships? How do you regain a sense of well-being and improve your health?
I am partnering with my local Oncology Support Program of HealthAlliance Hospital in Part 1 of a three part series aimed at supporting women cancer survivors post treatment. It helps to know that you are not alone in your struggle to adjust to life after cancer treatment and that you can learn strategies to take charge of your health and ensure your wellbeing. Although everyone’s experience is unique, the OSP Survivorship Series provides a vehicle for you to connect with other women going through a similar experience. The group is geared to women during the first five years after treatment and is facilitated by professionals and cancer survivors.
Part I: Connecting and Regulating our Emotions with Melissa Eppard & Ellen Marshall, MS., LCSW-R, OSW-C, Thursday, February 23, 2023 at 5:30 p.m. ET
In this session, Ellen and I will explore common concerns that arise after cancer treatment as you find your “new normal.” You are not alone in experiencing feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, fear of recurrence, body image issues along with changes in your sexuality and relationships. Together, we will explore our unique but common challenges and learn coping skills to help navigate this phase of our lives.
Part 2: Nourishing Ourselves with Registered Dietician
and Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition,
Jeannette Lamb, Friday March 10, 12:00 p.m. ET
Part 3: Addressing Clinical Concerns in the Post-treatment
Phase with Physician Assistant,
Alessandra Marino, Thursday, April 13, 5:30 p.m. ET
This hybrid program will be offered in person as well as online. Register by calling 845.339.2071 or email email@example.com to learn more.