To get back to life from cancer is not always a straight road. A diagnose often creates a weird bubble that almost every patient is living inside. That bubble is where you get the treatment. It also holds a certain security because people in that bubble are professionals. Doctors that you hopefully trust are making decisions for you about things that are unfamiliar and you are being taken care of. Once you get out of that bubble you end up feeling overwhelmed, tired and with problems relating to what once was your daily life.
Energy levels and healing
Depending on what kind of treatment you’ve had, healing takes time. It also takes a lot of energy to heal and sleep is your best friend. It can be difficult if you used to be very active and maybe have a stressful job, but take naps and use the time you are on sick leave to take care of yourself. Don’t go back to work too soon since it won’t benefit any one, least of all yourself.
Healing also comes with some side-effects that can be tough to deal with. Don’t hesitate to contact your doctor if you need help to control pain. If you can’t sleep get help with that too. Women especially tend to suffer through the healing period and avoid asking for help. It’s just the way we are wired.
Don’t apologise to everyone around you if you can’t keep up with things the way you used to. Once you start to move around after a surgery take time before you plan your next shopping round with friends. They can wait. Prioritising can be tough, but it’s important that you put yourself first for as long as it’s needed.
Feeling alienated and having problems relating
Coming home to familiar faces and surroundings can be overwhelming. It can also bring strange feelings of not belonging and having problems relating to both other people and things you used to do. Sometimes your priorities in life will change afterwards and what once was important can feel rather meaningless and even foreign.
Those feelings are usually why it can be difficult to come back to work again, or just fall back into socialising. It can also be hard to explain to people why since they can’t relate unless they’ve been in the same situation. What you can do is to ask for time. Time to heal properly, and not just physically. Having problems relating goes hand in hand with the feeling of being isolated.
Isolation and loneliness
Isolation is another feeling that can follow cancer treatment, but it can also happen before the treatment. There are so many overwhelming feelings bubbling up when you get diagnosed and you can’t explain them to others. If you feel isolated you probably also feel that no one around you understand. And it’s a situation that IS hard to understand if you haven’t been there. It’s not always two cancer patients in remission understand each other either because people are different.
There’s a lot of mixed feelings while in remission and it can be very confusing. This is where self-awareness is a good thing to have. If you don’t already, start writing a journal. Not so much for the sake of documenting your illness (no one wants to remember that 20 years later), but because it might just bring your situation into a new light. It’s also a way of seeing progress. To read a journal that was written 2 months ago and recognise the feelings but also notice that they have faded a lot since then is a real victory. It won’t put a damp on your mood even if the journal probably won’t be the most cheerful book you’ve read.
How to break the circle
Some cancer patients in remission can break this circle on their own, while some can’t. It all very individual.
If you can’t you might need to redefine who you are once the illness is gone. And to do so you might need someone to help you ask the right questions. If there’s a depression in the picture it might take medication and/or a psychologist to get you back on track again. But in most cases all you need is someone who understands and who can help you with a guiding star.
Acceptance can be the first step on the way to feel whole again.
Loss of confidence
It’s not unusual that there’s a loss of confidence if you’ve been under the care of a doctor for some time. The security you feel around health professionals will also make you feel dependant. Considering that you feel dependent for the sake of your survival it’s not a nice feeling.
Getting back the sense of control over your own life is important for the sake of carrying on. To do so you might have to discover new things about yourself and establish a new point of independence.
The illness might also have caused physical changes that will result in a loss of confidence. There are plenty of cancers that will leave physical scars and acceptance is very important. Changes in the physical appearance is usually a bigger thing for yourself than it is for those around you, but it still shouldn’t be trivialised. It’s a change in the self-image and it can be overwhelming and hard to handle.
Friends and social life
We all have friendships on different levels and not all of them are suited for a trip through cancer treatments. Be forgiving if some of your friends doesn’t live up to your values of the relationship you have with them. People can disappear from our social circle for a lot of different reason after a cancer diagnose, but fear is one of them. Cancer tend to make everyone aware of their mortality and it can be hard to handle.
So your social life might change once you’re in the clear and ready to come back to life. If you’re lucky enough to have all your friendships intact and life back in order once you’re in remission, that’s great. But most of the time it’s not that easy.
Accepting that some people might avoid you and simply not be there is not always easy, but it might be necessary.
Cancer is changing life in general and in some areas more than others. It comes with a lot of relief but also with uncertainty about the future.
How I can help
First of all, I’m not a therapist. If you have problems with depressions it needs to be addressed before you get in touch with me.
What I do is help you gain a new perspective on life and the future. It can be about accepting your situation in your social life, get over your fears, find your identity again, get your confidence back or handle stressful situations.