Navigating the New Normal
At the end of cancer treatment, a new chapter of your life begins – one that can bring hope and happiness, but perhaps also worries and fear. Having lived a life which revolves around a schedule of what seem to be endless doctor’s appointments, treatments and surgeries, many people are eager to get back to real life and pick up where they left off before the cancer. But, is this even possible?
For many women, cancer is a life-changing experience filled with many positive aspects. Some women discover an inner strength they may have never realised they possessed. Some may have formed new friendships during treatment or discovered new sources of support.
This life altering experience often serves as a catalyst for many women to start re-evaluating their lives and re-examining their priorities. Some people find the inspiration to start doing things they have never done before, like travelling around the world or taking up a new hobby. You may not necessarily return to the life you had before cancer, but one thing is for certain, a brand new life that can be full of promise is on the horizon. But how and where do you start to find your ‘new normal’?
Here are some helpful tips on how to navigate life after cancer
Stay positive – There is a general belief that you will be able to manage your life and past experiences with cancer if you have the ability to look at things in a positive light, but this may not always be possible. However, it is good to work towards having a positive attitude, which can help you feel better about your life now.
Discover what you love, and do it – When your life is no longer dictated by a rigid schedule of doctor’s appointments and treatments, you may find that you suddenly have a whole lot of time on your hands. You now have the freedom and luxury of time to do what you really love. Whether this means going back to work or taking up a new hobby, do what feels right to you – and most importantly do it for yourself.
Learn to live with uncertainty – You may find that you’re paying extra attention to aches and pain in your body, and always fearfully on the look-out for signs of cancer. You may be wondering if your cancer will come back, what are the chances of it coming back and what will you do if it does? These feelings are normal, and are referred to as the fear of recurrence. Some helpful ways in which you can learn to overcome this fear includes being well informed about your cancer and the likelihood of its recurrence, acknowledging your fears instead of ignoring them, and finding ways to help you relax. Learn how to cope with the fear of recurrence here.
Make a list of all your fears – It can be extremely beneficial to list down your fears and concerns with life after cancer. This will help you organise your thoughts and feelings as well as discover the root cause of these fears. Different people have different concerns, but some of the more common concerns amongst cancer survivors are fears of recurrence, feelings of resentment, fears of being treated differently, fear of how all this may affect your sex life or alter your relationship with your partner. Writing down your thoughts can help empower you to find a plan on how to address these issues and not allow your fears to hold you back from living a full and meaningful life.
Expect and accept the bad days – As you find your own ‘new normal’ and adjust to it, you will have good days and perhaps some bad days. You may question why you survived but other didn’t. You may succumb to the fears and anxieties of recurrence, or feel lost and lonely. Having a bad day and getting emotional doesn’t mean that you’re not appreciating your new life; it just means you’re only human. Expect that these bad days may happen and make a plan for them. Having a “bad day plan”, whether it’s doing something fun or seeing a friend, means you’ll always have something to turn to if and when you’re experiencing a bad day.
Control what you can – Having experienced cancer, you may suddenly feel that you have no sense of control over your life or your body. You may not be able to control when your hair grows back or when the effects of ‘chemo brain’ (cognitive impairment due to chemotherapy) will end but there are things in your life that you can control such as taking charge of your health or changing your lifestyle. Brainstorm on the things that you can control, and focus on that.
Practice your ‘elevator speech’ – One of the biggest concerns cancer survivors have is what to do if someone asks about your cancer? How would you answer a typical question such as “how have you been” or “how are you doing”? Reflecting on what your answer would be and how much you want to share about your cancer will help feel more comfortable when you find yourself in such situations.
Be open with your loved ones – Your cancer treatments may have ended, but it doesn’t mean that the support you were receiving from caregivers and loved ones need to end too. Many caregivers and supporters may not realise that you require the equal amount of support, be it emotional or physical support, through your journey of recovery and finding your ‘new normal’. Be honest about your feelings and don’t be afraid to seek support when you need it.
Share your experiences - For many cancer survivors, they find that they are inspired to help others who are going through cancer. This provides them a sense of purpose and feeling that having fought cancer themselves wasn’t all for nothing. Sharing your personal experiences with cancer communities may also be therapeutic as well as help you discover new channels of support.
Get support – No two people are alike. Everyone finds their own way to adjust to their new life. Some people are better prepared for life after cancer than others. But everyone can benefit from help and support from other people, be it from friends and family, religious groups, support groups, or professional counsellors. Can-Care offers personalised consultation for cancer patients, survivors and their families. Contact us to speak with our specially trained counsellors today.
As everyone copes with adjusting to their new life differently, there isn’t an exact timeline of when you will fully ‘bounce’ back. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself all the time you need to find your ‘new normal’.