A Change in Thinking After Cancer


It can be an awkward feeling when you all of a sudden go from almost weekly procedures to being cancer free.

It was a very awkward feeling to go from having a weekly medical appointment for a year to being cancer-free and completing all needed procedures. Initially there was a sense of freedom and happiness, but then fear reared its ugly head. I caught myself thinking what if the cancer comes back?

Everyone is different when it comes to treatment and procedures. Maybe you have or had a port and can look forward to having it removed as you move forward in treatments and move closer toward being cancer-free, but what will life will be like with the freedom of not having to go to appointments and procedures? There is often a feeling of success when you move forward living cancer-free, but the down time and change in routine can also play tricks with our mind. While treatments, medical procedures and invasive testing is often undesirable, we learn at some point they are a necessary part of life with cancer. Then, the tests and procedures become expected and routine. While there is a lot to celebrate after cancer, our schedule changes back to what life was like prior to diagnosis, and it may initially feel as if something is off or missing. The change of where and when to be somewhere can, by itself, feel awkward — almost as if something is wrong. This can then be associated with fear. We form habits based on our routines, and once done with treatment, the empty time and lack of worry can lead to new worry and fears, which often are not grounded in reality. What follows are some tips and an explanation of managing healthy and unhealthy fears based on life changes post-cancer.

Change challenges habits and routines we have created in our life. Habits — both healthy and unhealthy –become tolerable for some because it is what we become accepting of. We learn do things in the same way without thinking unless something or someone challenges us to think or act differently. If you have a habit of dressing every morning before eating breakfast and you are asked to eat breakfast prior to dressing you will likely feel as if something is wrong or out of sync.

When discussing change, I often asked clients to take their watch off their wrist and place it on the opposite wrist and wear it for five to 10 minutes. We then discuss their observation and how they feel. Often the response is “uncomfortable.” It feels uncomfortable or awkward because we develop habits that determine the order we go about doing things, how we do things and the time frame in what we do things during the day. When something disrupts our schedule or way of doing something, it is initially uncomfortable, but not necessarily harmful. It is important to evaluate what is leading to the discomfort. If it is not life-threatening or harmful, then we are merely experiencing life out of our typical routine or habit. This leads to a concept called cognitive dissonance. Our thoughts and behaviors are not in sync with each other but nothing is necessarily wrong.

If you are now more familiar with the process of habit formation and change, you may now be more open to processing your new life post-cancer. Yes, it feels awkward, but the discomfort doesn’t have to be associated with irrational fears such as thinking about cancer coming back. The new time and change in your routine is just that — a change.

This time of change may lend itself to reevaluating your daily or weekly schedule along with your life goals. Overall, are there ways you could be more productive now that you have time back in your life? How would you like to use that time? Can you fill your newly found free time with healthy habits such as exercise, meditation, new hobby or way of networking? Some of the changes can lead to improved diet, having more appreciation of just enjoying life or taking things a step further to pursue a new career or other life goals. Maybe you want to reevaluate your life in greater detail. Seeing a career counselor, dietician, exercise coach or maybe even a life coach might help guide you to new goals and adventures you can pursue in life.

No matter what you decide to do with your newly found free time, just understand that habits take approximately 30 to 45 days to develop and once established, they will then begin to feel comfortable. So, use this time to potentially make important changes to your life. Most of all, enjoy and celebrate your new diagnosis of being cancer-free.

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