When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, the scariest word in the room was “chemotherapy”. Naïve to what active treatment would actually be like, I foolishly assumed that once I completed it, I would be on to a whole new adventure. Wow, was I wrong. I finished big chemo in April 2017 (coming up on one year!) and my Herceptin infusions in December 2017. I’ve been out of active treatment for three months and things have never been scarier.
It wasn’t chemotherapy I should have been fearful of, I should have balked at “post treatment” instead. With chemo and targeted therapy, I was actively doing something against cancer, and now I’m simply existing. Or that’s how it feels. My follow-up appointments are dwindling, my side effects are plateauing, my survivorship care plan has been queued up. So why am I feeling so utterly depressed instead of ecstatic?!
Turns out, this is more common than I thought. After discussing with several others I’ve met online or in support groups, they all agreed that “post cancer” life can be quite brutal on the mind. Not only for the aforementioned reasons, but because we’re left with the fallout from the fight. We’re putting together pieces we didn’t realize had broken. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, lifestyle changes, relationship changes, returning to “normalcy”, being sick but not looking sick, these are just some of the aspects of my life that came rushing to greet me as I closed the door on active treatment.
And I was not prepared to greet them. Perhaps I’m still not, but I’m learning everyday how to equip myself with the tools to make it through this challenging time. I’ve started to carve out 10 minutes everyday to sit and reflect, or to meditate, so that I can turn everything off and see what surprising thoughts come creeping out of the woodwork. After more than a year of cancer running the show, I’ve learned that I still desperately want to learn sign language. Now I have a new goal to focus on. No seriously, I got that from sitting on my bed and listening to my Headspace app for 10 minutes. It works wonders.
I’ve started to run again, and I even have a few races under my belt. I’ve signed up for the Chicago Marathon in October 2018 and each day I can push my body and lungs to the limit, is a day I am thankful for. It’s an outlet for all the things I can’t control, I am quite literally running away from them. And on the days that are the darkest, I’ll try and stroll around the park for a few minutes, just to be outside. A change of scenery always seems to help.
Most importantly however, I’ve started seeing a therapist. This is the most important tool I’ve found during this tumultuous period. There is so much to take in after treatment, there are so many questions that float around my head daily. Should I become a vegan? How can I prevent a recurrence? Why do I feel guilty about surviving? About having fun? Journaling and reporting to my therapist keeps me grounded. And it allows me an outlet to explore this new phase with a safety net. I’m happy to have it.
If you’re reading this, and find yourself in the same position, please reach out to your medical team for help. I was surprised by the resources they provided me when I admitted that I was struggling. And if you’d like to chat more with me about it, you can find me on Instagram @jenhods or at my website www.rogueboob.com (if you’re not in the same position, that is amazing, but I hope you’ll still come say hi). For everyone on this journey, just remember to put one foot in front of the other.