Guest Blogger: Kairol Rosenthal
I was diagnosed with cancer at 27. After treatment, I ditched my hospital gown and hit the road. Traveling from the Big Apple to the Bible Belt, I recorded one-on-one conversations with 25 young adult cancer survivors who confessed to me experiences they had never shared with anyone else.
I was surprised by how many patients said that the hardest part of their cancer experience was life after treatment. Here’s a snippet of my conversation with Geoff Luttrell, a twenty-something survivor interviewed in my book, Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.
“When you have cancer and you wake up every morning, man, you know what’s happening: chemo, scans, IVs, the whole protocol. Everything else just falls away. There’s no confusion. Life was perfectly clear on chemo. A lot of people recovering from cancer talk about trying to live life like there’s no tomorrow, but you have to work, you have to go grocery shopping, you can’t just walk around 24/7 thinking, I have to make the best of it because I could die in the next five minutes. It’s not realistic.”
Like Geoff, I wanted to be realistic about how to deal with the directionless fray my life had become after treatment. Through my own trial and error, and while talking to other patients in my book Everything Changes, I’ve learned some lessons for transitioning from the treatment to life beyond:
Go Slow. After treatment, be kind to yourself. Take it slowly. You don’t have to dive back into life where you left off. In fact you can’t, because life has moved ahead since you were last in it. Step slowly into your life, taking time to learn about what you want from other people and from yourself.
Educate Your Friends and Family. The entire world will want to know how you’re doing. Create a standard yet honest reply – an elevator line that will educate them about what you are facing, such as, “I’m glad that treatment is over, but it’s pretty common to feel fatigue for a while, so I’m still recovering.” These simple, well planned answers will help reduce the friction in your relationships by ending other people’s unrealistic expectations of your current abilities.
Get Resourceful. After treatment, there is a lot of healing to be done – your body, your mind, your bank account. Remember that even after treatment, you are still a person whose life is affected by cancer and you are eligible for and deserve to partake in many resources available to cancer patients. Take advantage of co-pay assistance, scholarships, legal and psychological counseling, exercise and other programs to help you through the transition.
Be Honest With Yourself. When I traveled to Alabama, I met Tracy, a 37-year-old breast cancer patient who said, “Some people think that after an experience like cancer, if you are not smiling and doing cartwheels every day, then you’re just sitting around and feeling sorry for yourself. I am grateful to be alive, but I have good days and bad days just like I did before cancer. I also believe you can’t help yourself if you deny that you have suffered.”
She’s right. Life after treatment is hard. Maybe you’re dealing with medical bills, adjusting to missing a breast, or making sense of your work, love, sex, or family life. Perhaps fear, anger, or sadness about your diagnosis or recurrence are smacking you in the face. Don’t pretend that everything is fine if it is not. Being real about how you feel helps relieve tension. Don’t worry – you won’t get stuck here forever. I’m living proof of this.
For mores stories and stellar resources on life after treatment, read Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s . Also visit the blog https://everythingchangesbook.com/, a hub for conversation in the cancer community