After being diagnosed with cancer, life quickly begins to revolve around a schedule of treatments, surgeries and appointments. Most people have a basic idea of how long it is going to last, so they fall into a set routine. After everything is said and done, there’s an overwhelming excitement to get back to life, but when life isn’t defined by appointments, what do you do? Is it even possible to pick up where you left off, before the cancer? Luckily, others have been through this before, so we compiled the knowledge and advice of the IHadCancer.com community to put together these 10 tips that will help you transition back into life after cancer.
1. Be Open With Your Loved Ones: Cancer doesn’t end when treatment does, and neither should the support that you receive. Many caregivers and supporters don’t realize that you may still need them to check in just as often as when you were going through treatment. Be honest about how you are feeling, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
2. Get a New Hobby: There can be a lot of pressure on you to get back to your old self, but for some people, doing the same things as before may now feel foreign. If that happens to you, use this as an opportunity to try something brand new. Always wanted to start knitting, running, or painting? Now is the time. The reality is that you are a new version of yourself, so why not start something that you’ve always wanted to do, but never tried. This will help you to define this chapter of your life as something more than just “life after cancer.”
3. Expect and Accept the Bad Days: Chances are, you will have bad days. You will question why you got cancer or why you survived and others didn’t. You’ll succumb to the fears and anxieties of the potential for recurrence. But remember that having a bad day and getting emotional does not mean that you are not appreciating your second chance at life, it just means that you are human. Feel what you feel in the moment, and don’t let anyone tell you how you should be feeling. Set a plan for what you will do on those bad days — maybe get your favorite meal with your best friend, take a trip to your favorite park, or have your favorite movie on queue. Setting up an emergency “bad day plan” will ensure that you will always have a place to turn.
4. Consider Going Back to Work: If you were working before cancer, returning to work can help restore a sense of normalcy and control that is often lost during treatment. If you don’t feel comfortable resuming the position you had before your diagnosis, consider changing your job or talking to your employer about a way to ease into it. Orient your resume by skills and accomplishments rather than dates worked in order to highlight your capabilities and draw attention away from any gaps generated by treatment.
5. Practice Your Elevator Speech: Practicing your “elevator speech” addresses one of the biggest concerns cancer survivors have before making the plunge back into the “normal” world: What do you do when someone asks about your cancer? You just got finished fighting for your life, so how do you sum that up in a couple of sentences to everyone who asks? Write down and practice a five-minute, two-minute, and 30-second explanation about what you want to say when someone asks why you where you’ve been, or how you are doing, so it no longer becomes a roadblock.
6. Start Exercising (if capable): Exercise is a known way to reduce stress and tension, and it’s also another great way to connect with your new normal body. With your doctor’s approval, start small with at-home workouts and build your way up to going to the park early in the morning and then the gym, or even to classes that let you work out with a high-energy, supportive group. Note: If you do take the last suggestion, be sure to get to a new class a few minutes early and let the instructor know what’s up so they can let you discreetly take a break or leave the class if you’re not feeling it.
7. Make A List of Your Fears: It can be hugely beneficial to pen out deeply rooted concerns relating to life after cancer. Some may include struggling with chemo brain, fears of recurrence, feelings of resentment about having to endure cancer, fears of being treated differently once you resume “normal” life, what your sex life is going to look like with mental and physical scarring, etc. Writing your thoughts down can effectively place a check on general anxieties and empower you to plan how to address these issues more effectively, so they don’t hold you back from moving on from cancer.
8. Take Control of Your Health: You can’t make your hair grow back exactly the same way as before, or put an end to chemo brain, but you can brainstorm about the things in your life that you can control. Be actively involved with your health, make practical changes to your lifestyle — even set a daily schedule to help you get back on track. You know your body better than anybody else, so make sure you stay diligent and make a note of what makes you feel good.
9. Be Willing to Let Go: Some people aren’t going to be able to help you transition into your new normal. Here, the key mantra to keep in mind is this: If you can’t love me at my worst, you can’t have me at my best. Not everyone you care about will be there on the other side when you come out of it, but that’s OK. Take it as a lesson learned; appreciate those who stuck around and forget about those who walked away. If it wasn’t now, they would’ve done it at another point.
10. Share Your Experiences: The gift of giving back is one that keeps on giving, long after your treatment is over. Think about yourself on the day of your diagnosis and think about yourself now. You have inevitably learned a lot along the way, whether you realized it or not. You have knowledge that can help someone else, and dispelling that information will allow you to feel as though your cancer experience wasn’t for nothing: you are now able to help someone else get through this. Whether online at communities like IHadCancer or offline at local support groups, there are plenty of places where you can go to share your story, and in turn, both get and give support to others like you.
There are a lot more where these tips came from. Join IHadCancer.com and ask other survivors how they got back into their new normal.