Cancer, chemo, radiation, steroids, surgeries, the whole spiel of this journey can leave your body in a wreck. This wreck can take time to recover, and may never fully recover. ‘New normal' is what we in the cancer world call this. Finding your new normal is but another challenging and intimidating segment to the cancer journey. Post-chemo can leave cancer survivors left hanging alone, an untraveled road that can lead to post-traumatic stress (PTSD). Yes, post-traumatic stress is real and an entire topic alone (outside soldiers’ stories). Post-cancer treatment is often left unaddressed, leaving cancer patients to find this new normal alone through trial and error. This can be dangerous, bringing frustrations to learning to live out the new normal of everything and leaving survivors feeling like they have failed somehow.
Chemo and other cancer treatments leave side-effects; some of these short-term side effects can turn into long term side-effects (see my blog, 21 Chemo Side Effects Everyone Should Know About). The main and first one appears to be FATIGUE. Good ole’ fatigue. That can override everything within you, blending days and months into one large cloud. This chemo-fatigue is not as simple as going to take a nap and be over it. No. This fatigue is a dark cloud that knows no hour, place, or event. This chemo-fatigue knows the face of cancer all too well because this has been the biggest complaint or concern from survivors that I know, all including myself. This bottomless pit can be draining, even frightening as one scrambles to fight it off daily and grasp how to live with it. Fatigue is understandable while going through cancer treatments but not as easily accepted when in the healing post-treatment stages.
Sickness. Another unforeseen circumstance brought on by cancer and its treatments. We all know that low immune systems bring on SICKNESS. However, what about cancer survivors that have had treatments that have played havoc on their immune system? This can lead to long-term side effects, anywhere from getting sick more often or being sick for longer periods of time. Yikes! Again, being sick while undergoing cancer treatments is more acceptable, not post-treatment stages.
So what is to be done to address these two specific issues? Let’s take a look:
- Acceptance is the main key here. This alone is the most difficult task for many that find themselves in this situation. We anticipate, no, we expect to go back to our old, post-chemo/post-cancer self. For me, following my 6 ½ months of weekly aggressive cocktail chemo (EMA/CO), this was my focus. I wanted nothing more than to bounce back quickly. I was scared; I did not know my body internally anymore. There is nothing more terrifying than being in a body that you have known to find you no longer internally know, even physically recognize. This goes beyond hair loss but deep into scars, missing or mis-figured areas, foreign objects, down to internally how you feel. Once the acceptance is at bay then you can focus on how to manage from there with a clearer mind.
- Find your new body, mind, and spirit through art, yoga, design, or other activities that are time and mind absorbing and healing. Connect with other cancer survivors through support groups, meetings, or on social media. Find your old routines that will assist in re-finding your old self, your identity. Don’t be afraid to try new things; new activities and adventures may be just what you need! Always have a back-up plan in case you cannot complete a task. I remember going on my first real hike, not knowing if I could make it the entire way. I prepared the journey best I could to fit my needs then and for the future effects (sore hips the next day!). Sometimes it falls on trial and error to find your new limits.
- While finding and actively participating, go slow in these areas, work your way up to more and more, adding on a little bit each day, each week, each month. For me, I went from a full workout schedule to a stagnant stage. My treatments had me so weak and drained that I was definitely starting from scratch. It was crucial that I carefully listened to my body (and doctors) starting out with only a few minutes daily to 10 to 20 minutes, adding a little bit each time if my body allowed, building up strength and self-confidence, even the opposite, and that was alright! The old saying “we have to crawl before we walk” is indeed true for many.
- Reschedule your day to do the most important tasks and duties first, then work to do all the other things. I found this to be extremely helpful. I didn’t know how much steam I had under me, so I had to choose wisely so that when I did begin to run out, I had the most important duties already done. Make a list, in order, if needed, to help focus and stay on track as you progress through. I found, with time, my list being checked off more and more, even adding in new tasks.
- Be kind to yourself! Give your mind and body grace! Your body has been through a great deal so allow it to rest and heal. Don’t be mentally hard on yourself. Do not expect to be what you used to be because, well, this is similar to starting over again. Use this opportunity to begin fresh with a positive start, a new you. This can be challenging but you can do it! Do what you can and let it go! Remember, it is ok to not be ok.
- Health supplements and vitamins. Eating healthier can be another challenge but it's worth it because we are what we eat and consume, right? Find a health coach, dietician, search anti-cancer powering foods, explore various health supplements and definitely talk to your doctor. Research health foods, stores, and companies and find what works best for you to help regain and heal as best can be.
- Re-acceptance, re-focus after trying, exhausting all efforts, and resources is sometimes the final outcry. We have to realize that we may never be back to our post-cancer self. As much of a bummer as it truly is, we should refocus on what we do have and what we have regained as a result from all of this. Cancer may try to steal from us, but we have amazing bodies that are incredibly strong to heal, so time is sometimes all that is needed. Give yourself time to heal, re-focus and regain what you can. You may even find that you go beyond regaining but overpowering in certain areas and have strength that you never knew existed within you!
What have you done or are doing to move on?
Photo courtesy of the author.