Life after treatment: Returning to 'normalcy'

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By: Becky Libal, ANP-C Survivorship Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Manager

Thoughts, feelings, and emotions can vary in quality and intensity during cancer treatment and the tasks of managing side effects and many appointments can be an all-consuming job. Patients often have an entire support team made of caregivers, medical providers, and peers focused on getting them through the daily demands of treatment, and the thoughts of of life after cancer receive little attention until the day of discharge has arrived.

Once treatment is over, it is normal to feel a lot of emotions ranging from relief and happiness to depression and anxiety. Getting into a new normal routine will be different for everyone. Helping patients make this transition is one of the most rewarding parts of my job and I am grateful to work in an organization that allows me to spend as much time with patients as necessary to help them through one of the most traumatic events of their lives.

Here are a few tips that have been helpful to patients as they finish treatment courtesy of forgeon.org:

  • Allow yourself time to grieve and give yourself permission to mourn the loss of a previous lifestyle that did not include routine visits with oncologists.
  • After you have allowed yourself some space and time to reflect on what you have left behind, focus on the things that give you hope. Define the things in your life that you look forward to rather than dwelling on the next doctor appointment or scan.
  • Recognize the ways that cancer has made you stronger and give yourself kudos for making it through an incredibly challenging and traumatic experience.
  • Plan a series of activities to treat yourself. It could be coffee with a friend, a fun trip to somewhere you‘ve never been, a retreat with others in your religious affiliation, a hike in the woods, or a date with the book you’ve been wanting to read.
  • No matter what, keep moving forward and make the choice every day to be positive. Remember not to let your cancer define you, you are so much more than a diagnosis.
  • Reconnect with family and friends, and make time for special moments with those who are closest to you. Remember that they are your co-survivors and may also need some time to heal since they traveled that road by your side. Have open conversations as much as you are able to so you can help each other cope.
  • Renew your efforts to maintain a healthy weight with a balanced diet and regular physical activity. We encourage everyone who comes through our center to meet with our on-staff dietitian, Brisa, for recommendations customized specifically for you and your needs.
  • Many people experience a loss of confidence or feel self conscious about how cancer and its treatment have changed the way their body appears. For some, it is as small as the tattoo used to line up every day for radiation. For others, it is the scars from the surgery, the weight loss or gain from medications, or the surprise new hair texture that grew in after recovering from chemotherapy. It is normal to feel sad about these changes, but remember to love yourself and acknowledge that these changes are signs of the battle you have overcome. They show the world that you are a fighter.

Everyone and every situation is different so remember to be easy on yourself. Give yourself time to figure out what works for you. Try implementing some of these practices. Keep what works and toss what doesn’t. I’ll conclude these tips with one final piece of advice. Embrace today and focus on living your best life one day at a time. Living in fear about the future will only rob you of the joys embedded in the special moments that will pass by if you’re not paying attention.