I thought I would be so overjoyed upon completion of chemotherapy instead it was quite the opposite. After all when you go to chemo M-F 8-5 you can’t help but have it become part of your routine. More than that chemo had become my sense of security and I didn’t even realize that until I was done. What I didn’t prepare myself for was what I feel was the hardest part of my journey. Post chemo, post constant care.
On my last day of chemo I got a card from my husband and my mom along with many, many praises of support, happiness, and relief from a close watching family and friends on social media. I walked out feeling great, went to lunch with Ryan and Gracie and had a glass of wine!! I chose not to drink much during chemo because I thought it would be best for me and I had just gone 9 months without drinking. What’s a few more? This glass of wine was my celebration. Later that day we went to dinner with my mom and some family friends. It was a nice evening.
All seemed to be going well until later in the week when I went from feeling very positive to very disconnected, worried, and lost. I didn’t have these feelings while battling. Not once. I always felt like everything was going just as it should and I was under the best care I could ever ask for. I felt like the pilar of positivity and strength. What was this new feeling? Is this normal? Why do I feel lost? Why at the end when it is all over? Despite these feelings I tried to maintain positive lifestyle behavior in an effort to not let myself spiral out of control.
After several weeks trying to rationalize my thoughts I came up with a list of what I was feeling which really helped my healing:
- I was worried that I was no longer under constant supervision. What if it came back?
- My stomach hurts. Should I call the doctor? Maybe it’s just gas and I’m being dumb. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it is. Back and forth, back and forth.
- Should I call my oncologist for all my problems?
- I’m terrified of another pulmonary embolism. To the point it’s crippling. Am I sleeping too long, sitting too long, traveling too long?
- I have spent all my time either in the hospital, being taken care of at home, or being taken care of at the treatment center. That isn’t the case now.
- I was in my cycle of sickness. Everywhere I went was where I was sick. The people I was surrounded by were people I were sick with.
What to do? What to do? Well darn it!!!!! Conquer this list! I conquered cancer, I can conquer this.
Item 1: I was worried that I was no longer under constant supervision. What if it came back?
This is not a controllable. I need to learn what I can and can’t control. This was an awesome realization and has helped me in so many aspects of my life. To read more on this subject you can read my previous post, controlling the controllable.
Item 2: My stomach hurts. Should I call the doctor? Maybe it’s just gas and I’m being dumb. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it is. Back and forth, back and forth.
I quickly learned that my body was healing and I was going to feel aches and pains as I return to daily life. My strategy for not obsessing about every ached and pain in my stomach was to give it a day or two. If it was still bad and out of character I called the doctor. With a couple minor exceptions this always worked for me. Usually the pain went away and with that, the worry. I wasn’t going to die if I waited a day or two to see if it resolved itself. I did however tell my husband every ache and pain which in retrospect had to have been very hard on him. He never got upset with me for sharing and took all my complaints seriously which I am eternally grateful for. I think every survivor needs that support person to listen to their concern and take them seriously and not make them feel silly.
Item 3: Should I call my oncologist for all my problems?
I really struggled letting go of my oncologist. I still do. When you find a gem of a doctor it is hard to let them go and know they only handle what they handle. At my last major appointment I asked him what I should and should not be calling him for. He was very kind and explained that I should call him regarding anything to do with issues in the area he treated. It seemed like common sense to me but every time I had something I thought was related to the treatment I had I felt compelled to call him. Like my itching and etc. I still sometimes call his office with a problem I am having and the nurse always kindly reroutes me to my family physician. I’m getting better at resisting the urge to call the oncologist which makes me feel like I am learning to let go.
Item 4: I’m terrified of another pulmonary embolism. To the point was crippling. Was I sleeping too long, sitting too long, traveling too long, crossing my legs too long?
Major need to pull the reigns in on this line item! First of all, this is uncontrollable. Secondly, I got a pulmonary embolism because I had a major surgery and cancer. I can control this like I can control the weather. I can’t. I can’t control if my cancer comes back and I can’t control this. I needed to plunge forward and live.
Item 5: I have spent all my time either in the hospital, being taken care of at home, or being taken care of at the treatment center. That isn’t the case now and I have a newborn.
I have never been one to let others take care of me. I am pretty independent in that way. It was very hard for me to let go and be taken care of. Once I did it was a very nice feeling and I could rely on it. I needed the help. When chemo ended I ended up at home with a newborn and a husband that had to return to normal too. I was worried I couldn’t do it. I was worried that I wasn’t strong enough and I was also pretty fatigued by the end of my treatments. To conquer this I started taking it day by day rather than looking at weeks and months at a time. The things I couldn’t do because I was plunging all of my energy into Gracie during the day I left for Ryan to assist with when he was done with his work day. I even made a list of things that needed to be done that I needed help with and began to ask family to come over and assist. This was very helpful in my adjustment period. I think it is important to explain to your support system that even though you are done, you still need them. Keep them on stand by and don’t feel guilty about it. I know you may think they helped you for months and months and it’s hard to ask for more but you can. This is your time to heal.
Item 6: I was in my cycle of sickness. Everywhere I went was where I was sick. The people I was surrounded by were people I were sick with.
I needed to break my cycle post chemo. I needed to do something different somewhere new. If you are healthy enough I highly suggest taking a trip somewhere by yourself to see friends or just get away post chemo. I chose to take Gracie on a little trip to see friends in Canada. I felt like I had some one-on-one mommy daughter time I needed to steal back :). I used our travel time to bond, be silly, laugh and dance without anybody else being there to monitor. Gracie was by my side the whole way but I never got those precious mommy daughter moments alone with her that I so desperately wanted as a first time mom. This was my chance. We travelled, had a blast then saw some awesome friends for some silliness and much needed relaxation away from home and the cycle. I needed this time as much as I needed chemo to make sure I was okay. It broke my cycle and I came back myself again. My “non-sick” self.
I firmly believe all the feelings I was having post chemotherapy were completely normal. I just didn’t talk to anybody before I went through the phase to be prepared. I wish I would have. Talking to survivors now I realize many have this time period post chemo that they too didn’t know what to do with. I hope this entry provides comfort to anyone starting post chemo life to know that they are not alone in how they are feeling. If I would have known these feelings were normal I really believe it would have been an easier time and I would have reached out and talked to someone who had gone through it.
Stay well mentally and physically friends. My thoughts and prayers are always with anyone in this fight.