Even when treatment becomes familiar and less intrusive, your attention can be overwhelmed by a world of new information and decision making. This phase of “hyperfocus” on the here and now is a way of coping with the chaos that surrounds you. It’s what keeps many of us doing what we need to do.
Emotions change daily, and seemingly, without warning. Cancer treatment demands a trusting relationship with your doctors, entrusting them with your life. Optimism is sometimes hard to find and eating and sleeping normally is a challenge. Fear and worry are constant companions for many of us. Routine daily activities are left undone or delegated to someone else. In short, everything changes.
The frequent appointments and contacts with medical personnel help to allay concerns and keep you involved in your care. They provide a sense of security and dependability to support us as we walk through this unwelcomed adventure. When active treatment ends and follow up appointments are received, it may feel like your safety net of regular contact with your medical teams has been removed.
It’s normal to question, “Who will take care of me now?” and normal to be frightened by the realization that that person is you. If you’ve been an inactive participant in your cancer care decisions, this can be a terrifying thought. If you have been actively participating, it can elicit disorientation and anxiety.
You may be expecting life to go “back to normal”. Beginning a new life in this strange environment, you wonder where your old world went and when it might return. As much as you long to get “back to normal”, that won’t happen. Cancer has ravaged your body and mind with surgeries, medications, X-rays, fear, anger and doubt. Following intense treatment and confusing thoughts, life is curiously out of whack. Your body doesn’t react as it used to, and your perspective on life is different. Even if it were possible to return to your “old normal”, would you want to? Your old normal was a host for cancer. Your old normal betrayed your health. In order to live, you had to leave your old normal behind and be willing to stretch beyond your comfort zone to create a new and improved you.
This is your new normal life. It’s the opportunity to make healthy, happy choices. You will still be you, but with some adjustments that make life productive and satisfying. You can refuse to create a new normal, of course. It’s your choice: stay where you are physically and emotionally, or, choose to move forward and enjoy life again. If you choose to stay, your life may be plagued by pain, uncertainty and fear.
Moving on can be a difficult process. It may seem like one step forward and two steps back. It’s easy to feel weary, anxious, and frustrated. Understanding that your old life is gone and something new is here, is imperative to healthy personal growth. Creating a new normal after cancer requires perseverance and a focus on bettering one’s life, not perfecting it. It requires personal initiative to continue healing and trusting in your follow up plan and health care team. It may even be a time when painful decisions are necessary concerning unhealthy elements in your old life, such as bad relationships, destructive habits or current employment. This can be a pivotal point in your life- a time to focus on what is in your best interest to become a healthy, happy person. It’s new start with new possibilities.
How do you create a normal life after cancer? Think, talk, and try new things.
- What is good in my life?
- What do I want to include in the rest of my life?
- Who do I want to include in the rest of my life?
- What is stressful in my life and how can I change that?
- What have I noticed during this past year that has already nudged me into doing things differently?
- What are my goals?
- Talk with people who can help you, such as your doctors, social workers, nurses, navigators, dietitians, physical and occupational therapists and clergy.
- If your health care team has a survivorship clinic, keep your appointments and ask questions.
- Talk with friends and family who are supportive and positive.
- Do some journaling (writing your thoughts in a notebook). It can help you find a way to organize your feelings.
- Find a support group or survivor class and share your experience.
- Look for resources in your own community, regionally, nationally and online.
Try new things
- Learn more about being a survivor
- Find a new hobby
- Be physically active at least 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week in some way. The “Y” is a great place to start.
- Try a class in something you’ve always been meaning to try.
- When you are ready – perhaps, after a year – volunteer in a cancer related organization. It heals you to give back to others.
- Add more fruits and vegetables in your diet
- Try stress reduction activities like Yoga, Tai Chi and meditation.
- Re-examine the role of spirituality in your life and connect with your Higher Power.
- Be aware of your health care plan and follow your physicians’ recommendations.
- Schedule screening tests as recommended by your doctor to maintain good general health.
At first glance, the responsibility of yet another cancer related chore, like creating a new normal, can seem like an unfair demand on our already exhausted bodies and minds. In truth, it is an opportunity for a better life. What’s even better, it’s something that we, as survivors, have control over, unlike the process of treatment and procedures. It is our choice to make things better for ourselves and to connect with people who can help us make these choices a reality.
What have you experienced in your new life after cancer? Share that with us here.
written by Sue Bowman, RN, OCN, CBCN, MSW
Listen to an interview with Sue about the role a nurse navigator plays in guiding a patient through the cancer journey.