Cancer Survivorship Helped Me Be Kinder to Myself

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I expected chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to be difficult, but I felt totally lost after treatment ended.

Self-Care Symbolized: Hand Holding Colorful Heart | Image credit: © Kristian - © stock.adobe.com

“Molly, I’ve never heard you complain before.”

I was a little over a year into my cancer journey when my oncologist said this to me. It was a pivotal moment for me.

I’ve never heard you complain before.

I went on to explain to my oncologist that I was not prepared for this. I expected chemotherapy to be terrible. I anticipated that surgery would be unpleasant, and don’t get me started on my anxiety about radiation. Appointments five days a week while you’re working 45 hours a week is absolutely unreasonable.

The demands of cancer treatment are not to be taken lightly.

Still, while I wasn’t prepared for any of that, just knowing that it would be terrible was enough. Why had nobody told me that life after active treatment was going to be such a struggle?! I still can’t decide if this is something that I wish I had known before my diagnosis. On one hand, I wish I would have known what I was getting myself into. On the other hand, maybe not knowing made treatment easier.

We’ll never know.

I didn’t recognize my body anymore. I no longer felt at home in my body. I felt like I had aged decades. I was in pain. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t exercise. I had no energy. My joints hurt. The smallest amount of stress provoked a hot flash.

I was continuing to ask myself a question that I had asked myself many times throughout active treatment: “How is this my life now?”

I didn’t know how to accept my new normal. I didn’t know how to get reacquainted with my body.

It felt like my medical team had abandoned me when I needed them most. I didn’t know how to make sense of my new reality.

I didn’t know what was normal and what wasn’t.

I didn’t know how to take care of myself anymore — and that scared me.

I decided to aim for small wins. Instead of aiming for every meal to be a nutritious one, or a rigorous fitness routine, I would aim for adding one more serving of vegetables a day, or just showing up for my workout.

These small goals gave me a higher chance of success. Those small wins gave me the confidence to keep going.

I stopped focusing on the big picture and began to take life one day at a time again. This skill was essential during active treatment.

Do you remember those Discover card commercials that said, “We treat you like you treat you,” and they showed the same person being both the customer service representative and the customer? I remember seeing that commercial and thinking to myself, wow, that would be terrible.

Most of us would never let anyone talk to us that way we talk to ourselves or let someone talk to someone we love the way we talk to ourselves. I have since been so much nicer to myself. I’ve treated myself the way I would treat a friend.

Cancer is a great time to be selfish. Not in an arrogant way, but in a “put-your-own-oxygen-mask-on-firstway. It’s a great time to start practicing boundaries. My hope is that you continue those boundaries after cancer, and that you continue to take care of yourself after cancer.

This post was written and submitted by Molly G. The article reflects the views of Molly G and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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