by Bonnie, a MyBCTeam ambassador
You are certain to feel sheer joy and relief at the end of breast cancer treatment! Whew, you think, I finally made it to the end of a long and painful process! Ending treatment is definitely a reason to celebrate, and you probably can hardly wait to return to life as “normal.”
But you may quickly find out that life as you knew it before treatment just isn’t the same. Gone is the safety net of a team of doctors, nurses, technicians, and other means of support that are no longer there for you on a daily or weekly basis. Family, friends, and employers may have high expectations that you will be the same person you were before treatment. You will probably have the same high expectations of yourself. However, cancer is a life-altering experience and you will most likely be faced with establishing a new “normal” as a breast cancer survivor.
A myriad of things may present themselves at the end of treatment, and it’s quite typical to go through an adjustment period. Experts estimate that it takes as long for you to rebound from treatment as it did for you to go through treatment. However, we are each different, and it may take weeks, months, or even years to make the adjustment.
It’s often said that cancer treatment is one of the few treatments that leaves you in a worse condition than you were before you started. This is true for most breast cancer survivors. Some of the feelings and side effects you may experience at the conclusion of treatment may include fatigue, anger, loneliness, depression, anxiety, grief, pain, permanent scars, body image adjustments, lymphedema, neuropathy, menopause, weight gain, changes in cognitive functioning (“chemo brain”), changes in intimacy, increased stress, and fears of recurrence, along with other feelings and side effects related to your particular treatment.
But there are also positive things that can happen at the end of treatment. You may appreciate life more, become more spiritual, change how you think about life, reduce your stress at work and at home, adopt healthier eating and sleeping habits, and you may even decide to channel your energy into becoming a breast cancer advocate or become a source of support to others who have been just diagnosed or are undergoing treatment.
The biggest thing you need to give yourself is adequate time to heal and adjust. Be reasonable with yourself. Don’t set your expectations so high that you can’t reach your goals. Consult with your doctor(s) about any side effects that are still lingering. Join a support group. Share with your friends, family, and employer that you are going through a period of adjustment and ask them to allow you the time to adapt. Rest, relax, and know that eventually you will come to terms with accepting the things you can’t change as a result of treatment. Time is your best friend after finishing treatment. Best of luck to you as you find your new “normal!”