It’s hard to understand why when the surgery and treatment is over we’re not celebrating, moving on and simply getting on with our lives.
I certainly didn’t understand it but have come to realise, as many other cancer patients do, that the cancer journey has only just begun and surgery was just the start of it.
Up until that point I was in survival mode. I did what I needed to do to get rid of the disease but when the treatment stopped, and I had time to reflect on what had happened, that’s when it hit me, like an express train coming down the track at full speed with all its headlights on and sirens sounding.
Yesterday was the last day of my Moving Forward Workshop with Breast Cancer Care. We talked about the cancer journey and what it looks like. The graph below, provided by LYLAC (Live Your Life After Cancer) sums it up perfectly.
The horizontal line across the middle of the graph with the gold stars is time. Moving from left to right from the moment we get the diagnosis in to the future. How long in terms of months/years that represents is different for all of us.
The top half of the graph illustrates what happens to us emotionally and physically during that period. The bottom half shows what is happening to our lives, the range of emotions we experience and the questions we may be asking ourselves.
The Red Bit
From the moment we are diagnosed to the day we complete our treatment we are in survival mode – focused on what needs to be done, our bodies take the biggest blow. This is when we are under the care of our medical teams and when we may receive most support from friends and family.
The Green Bit
When we leave hospital and the treatment has ended we hit rock bottom. Our bodies are slowly recovering from the fallout but emotionally we are running out of steam. Family and friends may think we are done with cancer and think that we’re fine, but we’re not. Life has changed. As much as we desperately want our old lives back we slowly come to realise that the old life is simply just that, an old way of doing things. We need to get to know the new us.
For me the dotted green line on this graph would have many more highs and lows. I have had the most incredible lows followed by highs of days where it doesn’t feel like anything has really happened. Then whoosh! Something comes out of nowhere, for no reason and smacks me down again. Its almost as if someone is shouting: Hey! You! Don’t forget whats just happened. Don’t you dare get comfortable. Its not over yet Sister. This is my rocky road but it is becoming more even as time goes on.
When my treatment was over I felt very lost and alone. The support of the medical team had gone and I was falling apart. I didn’t know where to turn or who to talk to. My life saver was my local Wessex Cancer Trust Centre. Its one of many charity centres set up to help cancer patients through those difficult times.
My other saving grace was going to workshops like the Moving Forward one set up by Breast Cancer Care. Meeting women who are on the same journey helps enormously and being able to have expert help and advice on how to make sense of it all is absolutely priceless. Although the course has come to an end now we have decided to stay in touch. There is even talk of setting up a Nordic Walking group, which would be fantastic!