For many people including myself finishing treatment for cancer can leave you feeling a little lost. You expect to feel over the moon but often end up down in the dumps which can come as a shock. A recent survey by Breast Cancer Care discovered that more than half of breast cancer patients questioned struggled with anxiety after treatment ended and 26% said life after cancer was harder than chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
At this weeks final Moving Forward course with Breast Cancer Care we had a group session with a councillor and all eleven of us said we found life after cancer much harder than we had expected. Initially when treatment stops, being out of the cycle of hospital appointments is unsettling. I found I had got used to the constant care and attention of the nurses and doctors. It was comforting to know they were on hand if you had any problems.
Then treatment stops and its time to get back to your ‘normal’ life, but it just doesn’t seem to fit anymore. Talking to the other ladies at the course it became clear we all felt a similar feeling of loss but for different reasons. One lady even described it as being like grieving, grieving your old life and body. I could completely relate to this as, for me, hormone therapy and the side effects are something that, ten months in, I am still learning to live with. I feel angry and cheated that, at 35 years old, I am dealing with severe menopausal symptoms while my friends are all having babies. The physical changes that breast cancer brings is another big hurdle many women face. The war may have been won but there are still a lot of casualties to be treated, operations that haven’t gone to plan, unpredictable fatigue and painful scar tissue.
The overall consensus from the group was that the mental scars run far deeper than the ones on our bodies. Many of us feel frustrated that, months after treatment is finished, cancer is still bringing us down but we find it hard to admit this to friends and family. The fear of recurrence is also very raw and many of use don’t trust our bodies anymore, fearing that every little ache or pain is the cancer returning.
Fortunately there is lots of help out there with Macmillan and Breast Cancer Care both offering courses and counselling that can help cancer fighters deal with life after cancer. I had six sessions of counselling through Cancer Support Scotland which I found really helped get my head in a much better place. We finished off the course in a lovely way by writing a letter to ourselves that we will receive in a few months time as a reminder of how far we have come. Our group were keen to stay in touch with each other and the course leader very kindly collected all our phone numbers and email addresses so we can arrange to get together again.
The ‘Someone Like Me’ service that Breast Cancer Care offers is another fantastic way to find someone who has been through a similar experience. It’s also very important to remember our cancer nurses are there for us during and after treatment, so if you have any niggling questions or side effects they are only a phone call away. If you don’t feel happy calling your hospital the Breast Cancer Care Helpline is manned by specialist nurses.
Life after cancer is hard but we are most definitely not expected to handle it alone.
Breast Cancer Care Helpline: 0808 800 6000