Dear Friends, Cancer Doesn't End When Treatment Does

Have you ever wanted to know what to do or say to help support your friend who just finished treatment, but the walking-on-eggshells feeling kept you from asking how? Read what post-treatment life is like for this cancer survivor to help your understanding.

Once I was declared cancer free, a lot of my initial support started to dwindle. It was assumed by many that I was cured and could go back to being a normal twenty-something. However, that wasn't the case. After my first month of chemo in the hospital I started eight months of intensive out-patient chemo, though I ended up in the hospital for most of it. My inner circle stuck close by and continued to help me through it all even though my "outter-inner circle," i.e. the acquaintances who signed the card but never showed up at the hospital, seemed to have forgotten I was still sick.

By January (month #10 of chemotherapy), I was getting ready to start my one-year-and-eight-months of maintenance (not that anyone was counting…). It was then that most of my close family and friends started to forget I was sick. My hair was growing back, I had more energy, and had finally stopped getting weekly blood transfusions. While that was all nice and good - I mean I was thrilled to start feeling just a little bit normal - I was still exhausted all of the time and still at a higher risk to get sick, which could have meant delaying a dose of chemo, and delaying my end of treatment date.

For the most part, my past year had been pretty sedentary, not to mention I had been loaded up with enough chemicals that would make Alex Mack look like a normal teenage girl. My family and most of my friends didn't understand how much energy it still took to take a shower, or the energy it took to try and go for a walk around the block. To be honest it was hard for me to learn how to ease back into my old lifestyle and trying to predict what my fuel tank for the day could look like. As soon as I started feeling even a little bit better, I wanted to take full advantage of it. I think it was because a part of me was afraid that at any moment something bad could happen again.

Slowly I started to adjust to my new limits and learned that even though I wasn’t a normal sick person in the sense that I didn’t have an active illness, I still had to be mindful of how fragile I was/am. It’s easy for me to realize my limits now, but it’s still hard to openly admit that I need to take breaks or explain why for that matter. On the outside I look like an average 27 year old, minus the scar four inches below my shoulder where I had my port taken out. But on the inside I’m exhausted most days. Some days I’m so dizzy that making it to the bathroom in time to throw up is a challenge, and other days I’m feeling absolutely fine.

It’s hard to explain to someone how difficult easy tasks are, or how you have to plan out every event of your day in order to make sure you have enough energy to last the day. It's hard to not go out for drinks with coworkers because you're just too tired - and have no one believe you. It’s frustrating, and I feel bad having to remind people when I just can't do something.

The most important part is knowing what my limits are and having at least a few people on my side who can be my voice when I get drowned out. Cancer sucks, but knowing I have people I can count on for days when my energy is running low is the reassurance I need to keep going on at my own pace.

In what ways would it help for your friends and family to get involved in your post-treatment life? Give some suggestions in the comments below!