Bouncing Back After High-Stress Moments While Fighting Cancer

My body and mind go through a lot before and after cancer scans. Here is how I bounce back.

As someone diagnosed with cancer back in 2016, I’ve built up a solid resume of experience fighting cancer. The cancer was aggressive, and I underwentfive days a week chemotherapy, seven operationsand about five recurrences as bone cancer spread from my right femur to both lungs multiple times and then my left hip.

Results-focused moments like scans have always been some of the most intense for me. I definitely prefer getting lost in the process of my day-to-day habits and healing regimens… It’s just easier keeping my attention on each day’s check lists and the accompanying sense of accomplishment when I complete tasks— knowing that I’m doing everything I can to give myself the best chance possible.

But then when I see scans on the calendar, it just whips me out of focus with a heavy, “judgement-day” feeling that looms over everything.

With scans or other appointments with major implications, the anxiety can kick in a few months beforehand, at least for me. And it builds over time as worry, fear, PTSD and the general feeling of having a lack of control take hold. During the week of scans, even if my mind is completely distracted, my stomach still tightens and there will be headaches, fatigue… the body just knows potential threats are approaching on a subconscious level.

After the big day, if results prove less than ideal, I’ve learned to give myself time to process the information. Often, there’s a sense of shock and disbelief. I find it best to rest and let the dust settle for a moment.

Once the emotions dissipate and I can think more clearly, I’ve found it best to approach mindfully, looping in trusted advisors (especially a few outside the hospital to get a variety of opinions), and after carefully considering all angles, I follow my intuition while reminding myself the importance of taking everything one day at a time. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed — if you’re not familiar with my story, I was given a less than 10% survival rate, so I know how dark cancer can get…

On the other hand, as I’ve managed to improve my situation, I’ve also learned a ton about receiving good news. You might think it’s pure joy and relief… but I’ve found that to be only half of the equation. For example, I always seem to struggle the following days. My body, which has been on high alert, finally crashes— there are zero endorphins, and while I always thought you’re supposed to feel elated 24/7, in my case, I can’t even sense a flicker of joy, no matter how much comfort food, TV or music I reach for. This can bring a sense of guilt, like “shouldn’t I be feeling different, or celebrating better?”.

If anything, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to anticipate the crash after scans or other high stress moments.

I now book a massage for the day after, knowing that my body will need to recover. I allow at least a day or two for nothing but rest. And most recently, I forced myself into a dopamine detox because I’ve found my body’s supply is usually depleted at this point. For me, this means putting my phone away, holding off on the internet and even music. Instead, I force myself into resting and intentional de-stimulation (the temporary reframebeing: boredom is good).

While laying in bed, I listen to distracting but lower key podcasts (like Conan O’Brien, who I find light and relaxing) instead of assaulting my senses with colors and noises from movies or TV. I alsojournal, reflect and meditate. And make sure to replenish my body with juices, salads, and vitamins.

This approach can make a huge difference. Within two to three days, I tend to start feeling more like myself again, but it’s OK if it takes some time. Most importantly, I try to offer self-compassion along the way because this whole world of fighting cancer is crazy!

For anyone suffering or scared and just needing some help, I’m always here to support the community just like other cancer thrivers were for me. Feel free to reach out at steve@othercword.com.

And when it all feels too overwhelming, just try and remember: one day at a time.


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