This picture was taken shortly after I returned to work. At this point, my life felt amazing. I had a coworker take this photo because I couldn’t believe I finally had my own desk. Who gets excited over that? Someone who just beat cancer, I guess. Everything was amazing during those first few weeks of my new “normal” but eventually that feeling wore off and I realized there’s a lot more to this new life of mine. Since May 2017, I couldn’t wait to get to this point, yet here I am feeling so lost and confused.
Life after cancer is so much harder than I ever imagined it to be.
Everything about cancer is awful from before the diagnosis, throughout treatment, and apparently even after it’s all over. Life after cancer was supposed to be amazing. I had a new appreciation for everything and a boost of confidence that would get me through whatever was thrown my way. Although I am so thankful to be here and finished with my treatments, it turns out none of this is actually that easy.
Physical effects from chemo: I’m still dealing with some intense fatigue, even months after my last treatment. I’ve been trying to stay busy because once I sit still, it takes every bit of effort to not fall asleep. Working out regularly has helped a little bit with my energy levels though. Once I got back to work, I was determined to also get back in the gym. I wanted to prove that cancer couldn’t hold me back forever. Not only was it really hard to see how much strength I’ve lost since my cancer journey started, but I’m also still dealing with some pretty bad neuropathy. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I recently started jogging again. During what was supposed to be an easy jog, both of my calves swelled up in so much pain and my feet went numb. I couldn’t feel my toes. I’ve been trying to continue jogging since then, but it has become an ongoing problem that severely limits how far I can go. I eagerly signed up for a few 5k races before I realized how much the neuropathy was still affecting me and it’s so disappointing that the cancer side effects continue to have this much control over what I am able to do. I plan to follow through with those 5ks though, even if it means walking a good portion of them.
Emotional effects from cancer: Cancer is traumatic. Somehow, my mind has managed to block out a lot of what I went through, but there are still many things that are really tough to think about. There are a lot of emotions I’m dealing with that I can’t even describe. I don’t understand it because I should be ecstatic, right? I just beat cancer! Unfortunately, life after cancer doesn’t come with a manual to explain these things, although I wish it did. It’s such a roller coaster from day to day. There are days that I feel on top of the world followed by days that are incredibly tough to get through. That’s about as much detail as I wish to go into on this topic right now, but I think it’s important to note that the emotional stress after cancer is almost as bad as during treatment in my opinion.
Financial stress– Another thing people don’t talk about is that cancer is really, really expensive. Many times, cancer will force a person to stop working and even if you’re lucky enough to get some compensation for being out of work, it’s going to be a huge cut from what you’re used to. Then, you have to worry about all of the medical bills, countless prescriptions, fertility preservation fees (which is an ongoing monthly cost), travel to and from the cancer center, moving costs… I could fill up a whole page with this list. These expenses don’t just go away when the cancer does. I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone who doesn’t have insurance because even with insurance, the cost of having cancer has been overwhelming and stressful.
Anxiety- Since my last PET scan, I’ve been living in a constant state of fear that this may not be over. I hear so many stories about people, who I know personally, having relapses or suspicious scans even after they’ve been told they’re clear. I over-analyze every little thing and worry that it may be the cancer coming back. It’s a stress that I’m not sure will ever go away. My next scan is coming up in just a few weeks and I’m sure that has been the cause of a lot of the anxiety in my life recently. It’s one of those things that I’m dreading going through, but at the same time I can’t wait for that day to get here and hopefully clear up some of the “scanxiety” that I’m dealing with.
I want to end this by saying that I have so much to be grateful for and I don’t want this post to take away from that at all. I knew I wanted to write about life after cancer from the moment I beat it, but I never imagined it would go like this. Every day is a work in progress to try to get back to a new normal, a new happy, and a new healthy and I’m realizing now that it’s going to take some time. With that said, I, of course, am very thankful to be given the opportunity to find those new realities and will continue working on myself until that day comes.