Many cancer patients emerge from treatment thinking that finally, things can get back to normal. And many are equally disappointed to find that though their bodies may be healing, their thoughts and emotions are still overstressed.
“It’s always in the back of my mind,” says Chris, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor. “I get a cold and my glands swell and I think, ‘Uh-oh. Is it back?’”
Constant worry about the cancer coming back causes regular anxiety for most survivors. You’re expected to bounce back to your old self, but it’s more complicated than that. There are fears, questions, stress, and furthermore, though the cancer may be gone, your body isn’t the same as it used to be. Worst of all, you may find it more difficult to get help than you did while you were going through treatment.
“After months of relying on doctors, nurses, and technicians to examine, treat, and monitor patients to make them well,” writes R. J. Ignelzi for San Diego’s “Union Tribe,” “suddenly their health is once again their own responsibility. That can be scary and more than a little stressful.”
What can you do to relieve the stress and improve your outlook? Try the following.
Be patient. Remember all you’ve been through-the worry, the discomfort, the side effects, the hospitals, the doctor’s visits, the financial stresses, and more. It takes time to recover fully, so give yourself the time you need to fully heal.
Join a support group. No one understands what you’re going through more than others who are also going through it. Ask your oncology nurse or social worker about groups that may be right for you.
Consider seeing a counselor. A high percentage of survivors go through a period of depression. You have suffered a loss, and you’re grieving that loss. Maybe you lost your hair, your breast, your prostate, your lung, or part of your colon. Perhaps you lost your figure, or what you felt was your normal appearance. You may have lost a lot of money, been forced out of your career, or been unable to attend important family events. A counselor can help you sort through it all.
Talk frankly with your doctor. If you’re worried about something, even if it’s just a sore throat, don’t be afraid to talk with your doctor. He can put your worries at ease. In addition, ask him what you can do to avoid recurrence. Taking action always helps you regain control.
Exercise. Start slowly, perhaps with gentle exercises like yoga and Tai Chi, but get your body moving again. Treatments tend to leave you weak and sap you of muscle strength. Rebuilding your body releases natural endorphins that can help you feel better emotionally, as well.
Eat right. Not only will it help nourish your body and support your recovery, it could help you lower your risk of recurrence.
Consider massage, acupuncture, and Reiki. These alternative treatments can not only relieve long-lasting side effects, but can help you relax and learn to let go of your anxiety.
Be nice to yourself. Do something nice for yourself every day. Remember that you’ve come through a difficult ordeal, and you’re still here. Celebrate in every way you can!
Did you struggle after your last treatment was over? What advice do you have for others?
Photo courtesy Simone Bonazzoli via Flickr.com.