Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
A 10 year, 2-time cancer survivor offers 6 tips for cancer survivors transitioning to "normal life" after their treatment for cancer wraps up.
If you are pretty new in your cancer diagnosis, you may not be ready to consider what transitioning to “normal life” after treatment might look like. If you have recently completed your active treatment, you may be feeling a little relieved, but maybe even panicked.
As a ten-year-two-time cancer survivor, I will suggest that it can be helpful to think ahead a bit about this. Transitioning to “normal life” may not look like what you hope it will, but as I look back at myself as a 10-year survivor, here are six tips to keep in mind.
If you can extend your time off work, or negotiate a part-time work schedule to begin with, it will help your body and mind to heal. The physical, mental and emotional healing after a cancer diagnosis is usually better measured in months and years rather than days or weeks. It can help you to be gentler with yourself and not rush a return to “normal life” if you have a realistic timeframe at the start.
Let them know that you are not back to 100%. Even as my hair started to grow back after chemotherapy and I looked “normal,” I felt anything but normal. Looking normal and feeling normal may be different for a while, a long while, but you will get there. Do not be afraid to ask for patience and understanding from those around you.
Ongoing monitoring by you and your oncologist will help you to stay on top of your health and to feel safer. If a health concern pops up, don’t wait, and thereby torture yourself for a while. Instead, reach out to your doctor to determine if your health concern is cancer-related or not.
Repeat after me, “not everything is cancer.” You may also find it helpful to stay with an in-person or online support group for at least a few months (or years) after active treatment ends. When there is a place to go where people understand, it is less critical when those around you always understand your cancer experiences as you transition to “normal life”.
Though cancer took away your life for a period of time, you are in charge and it is your choice who you share your experience with and how much you share. You control your information. It might be helpful to form a plan before you are back in your normal daily life routine and interacting with family, friends, co-workers, and strangers.
Still, you are not alone in the transition back to normal life. I sort of want to say that if you can forget, then go for it. Unfortunately, ongoing responsible symptom monitoring and testing can contribute to ongoing worry for some of us. “New normal” (yes, I still hate that term) may include PTSD or fear of recurrence. Both of these are actually reasonable reactions to the abnormal circumstances of—well, you know, cancer. You will find your own way back to your new future, and you will find and appreciate joy and hope even more now.
Celebrate! Take a pre-back-to-normal vacation if you are able to do that. You are here!
Transitioning to normal life will have its challenges, but you will get through. I mean, heck, you have already beaten cancer! By comparison, these are just small bumps in the road.
It is time to recognize and appreciate how much you have grown during the cancer process. As my cancer support group leader once said, “There isn’t one of us who goes through cancer and doesn’t come out the other side smarter, wiser, and stronger than before.”
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