April 29, 2011

life after treatment...

yesterday was the one year anniversary of the end of treatment, which is a big deal in the cancer world. i intended, of course, to write this post yesterday...but nine hours of class put a hold on it until today.

during diagnosis and treatment i remember thinking there was no life after treatment, that i would never have any normalcy in my life, and that i wouldn't be able to move on. i became so enmeshed in my cancer identity that i didn't know what else there was. and then i reached that traumatic and exciting day when i finished treatment. exciting for obvious reasons, but traumatic because i lost the safety of active treatment and seeing a doctor every week. so, what is life like after treatment, you ask? here's what it has been like for me....

i won't sugar coat it, because i made a pledge to be honest here...those first few months were absolutely brutal. aside from the physical recovery, which in my case included life limiting fatigue, itchy skin, and a touch of shingles...there's the mental and emotional recovery. i was sad, i was anxious, i missed my doctors and nurses, i missed the attention, i missed the reassurance that i was fine, i hated people who pretended i was 'back to my old self' and acted like nothing ever happened (still hate this), i was afraid to plan for anything in the future - even a month away, i didn't see myself when i looked in the mirror, i wanted to ditch my wig but i hated the way i looked without it, i would get frustrated and cry sometimes because the recovery was so slow, and i just wanted to feel whole again. no one prepares you for this...the whole world expects you to be happy that you're done and move on. but, the moving on takes time. patience is probably the hardest thing during this time because we all just want to be 'normal' again...but, it's a process...and it gets better.

so, so much better. now, a year out of treatment cancer isn't always the first thing on my mind. anxiety doesn't control me. i still have energy at ten o'clock at night. i think about the future every single day with excitement (and maybe a tiny twinge of fear that continues to fade). when i look in the mirror i see myself. i smile when i take a deep, unrestricted breath. i focus my health on exercise and eating well instead of surviving. i feel more whole than i've felt in a long time.

but...one thing that has become more challenging is to remember my perspective. when i was going through diagnosis and treatment, i promised myself i would never, ever lose the perspective that i gained from the experience...that every day we wake up is a reason to be grateful, that life is a journey, that there's nothing that can compare to beating cancer, and that i have gotten so much more than what was taken from me. and it's not that i've lost the perspective, but life can get crazy, and things can get overwhelming, and i have to make a conscious effort to pause and reflect when i find myself losing that perspective....

...like the times when grad school gets overwhelming and i let everyone's stress get to me...i remind myself that the worst thing that can happen is i don't get my degree...life wouldn't end (as some of my classmates seem to believe)...

...or the times when i complain about my hair, or get all worked up about how imperfect by body is...it's the reminder that i have hair, and that my body is healthy and that's all that matters...

...or the moments when i realize i'm just going through the motions...and i remind myself that life is a journey, and we're responsible for making each moment what it is.

i suppose that it's all part of the process...and the beauty is somewhere in the balance of perspective and tolerance. i imagine somewhere along this path i'll find that perfect balance, but for now, i continue to push forward and to take the experience for what it is...appreciating that all of this has become part of my journey, and there's meaning in every bit of it.

(and a full head of hair...check it out)


  1. Angela KoutsourisMay 1, 2011 at 12:30 AM

    Thank you for taking time to post about your one year anniversary. I am 4 months out and am finally starting to get out of the physical and emotional fog. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

  2. This is a fabulous picture! Love it! Congrats on one year girl, love and hugs!

  3. I wish i would have came by your blog sooner. i am 1 1/2 months out of tx. i was great mentally during tx but now that its over i am feeling all those things you wrote about and i just dont understand it all. i feel more lost and scared now then ever before. your strength is amazing. thanks for sharing. chrissypong@hotmail.com

  4. This post is absolutely inspiring. Your hair looks amazing. I'm about 6 months out from treatment and still look like a cush ball!

  5. You vividly bring to life the experience of the post-cancer patient. Everyone--patient included--expects all to be well, to "go back to normal," yet there is an astonishingly high degree of post-cancer anxiety and depression. Those who experience it are not alone. Check out the stats at the post titled "The Quiet That Doesn't Come After The Storm: Post-Cancer Anxiety and Depression," found at http://wp.me/p22afJ-HK. Your fight and courage in the face of this, as well as all you have gone through, clearly inspire others, as you can see from comments on your blog. I hope that means much to you.