Who Will You Be/Who Are You After Cancer Treatment Ends?

One thing I find all of us have in common after a cancer diagnosis and a year or more of treatment,  is we know who we were, and we realize we are no longer that pre-cancer person.  We feel lost for a very long time, often many, many years, because nothing, especially our former selves, is the same.  And we are extremely unfamiliar with who we have become.  It is easy to remain stuck in grieving our former self and not move on to accept our Post-Cancer Self.

Early on a recent Sunday morning, I unearthed a great discovery while cleaning. That’s always the risk of cleaning, isn’t it?  I found an old journal from 2009, several years before my cancer diagnosis.  In the journal, I had written a list of 100 things that I wanted to do before I die or aka the infamous Bucket List.  Vaguely I remember reading a book by some self-help author who appeared on Oprah who said to make that bucket list, and I did. BucketList As I read through the list, my first reaction was:  “Who is this shallow person?”  The list consisted of mostly fun things I wanted to accomplish.  Reading through it actually made me shiver as I thought to myself, “Is that all I used to think about?”  It really horrified me to read what now seemed to me like very meaningless goals.  For example, one of my former goals was to “buy a luxury car.”  Certainly, there is nothing wrong with owning a luxury car, but it would no longer be on my Top 100 things to do before I die.  Now I am so grateful and fortunate to own a non-luxury mid-size car that runs.  The list upset me so much that I ripped the papers out of the journal, crumpled the pages into a ball, and threw them into my garbage can.

Later in the day, I was sitting in Church quietly reflecting on that list.   It hit me that the discovery of that list was no accident.  Lately, I had been praying about accepting Post-Cancer Denise.  In order to do so, it was necessary for me to let go of my mental images of pre-cancer Denise.   So I came home and retrieved the crumpled papers from the trash.  Studying the list, I realized that pre-cancer Denise now felt like an old acquaintance that I had nothing in common with since at least 75% of those goals no longer held any meaning.  And ironically enough, the only three “friends” that I had included in my list, had all abandoned me during cancer.  That’s because they were the “fun kind of friends” and not the “no matter what kind of friends.”

I’ve said it before and it is worth repeating.  Many of you have written these same sentiments to me:  Cancer taught me more than all my previous life experiences combined.  Am I ready to say cancer was a blessing?  ABSOLUTELY NOT.   But I am ready to say that cancer matured my thinking times 100 and taught me what really matters in life.

If you are clinging on to your pre-cancer self, holding your old self in higher esteem, and yearning to go back to who you were before cancer diagnosis, ask yourself these questions:

1)  Besides your health, what do you miss the most about your pre-cancer self?

2)  If your pre-cancer self and your Post-Cancer Self sat down to have a conversation, what would be the content of that conversation?

3)  Are your goals different now than they were before cancer?

4)  How are the depths of your relationships different today than they were before cancer?

5)  What is the single most important lesson cancer taught you/is teaching you?

Spend some time to ponder the answer to these questions.  It will help move you along to accept your Post-Cancer Self and allow you to move forward.

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11 comments

  1. Thank you for posting this, Denise. I am going to print your list and start journaling. I am thru my mastectomy, chemo and radiation and have an upcoming hysterectomy in December and I find myself thinking….Now what? Sure, I get my spacers replaced in April and that will be the end of what I think is cancer. I was diagnosed with TNBC and I am full of fear that it will return. I need to move forward with my life and do things that matter most, yet I feel frozen and at a standstill. What is next for me? What truly is important? I guess I better get my pen and paper out! Many Blessings to you.

    • Hi Jo Anne – congratulations on having so much of treatment behind you. Isn’t it amazing how challenging, difficult, painful and awful it is? And the fears — mine have never gone away, but it is like learning to live with a new pet that is aggravating – you learn how to do it.
      Oh I’m so glad you are going to journal. That will help so much! You will become a better you. But it
      takes time and much figuring it out! Wishing you the best, and blessings to you, Jo Anne!

  2. I am only one year post cancer. I have 2 more treatments of herceptin, actually, before I’m done with treatment, but consider, as my surgeon does, that I’m a year past cancer. The last herceptin and surgery to get the port out in a few weeks are just technicalities. There are 2 things that I miss about my former self, thicker hair, and more energy. I’m hoping I’ll get more of both back, or at least the energy. I am becoming, I hope and think, a more positive person, a more loving person, more compassionate and concerned and loving toward other people. I want to continue to grow in that direction. I think that my faith is getting stronger and surer. I am looking for more positive things and attitudes and images in life. As an artist I am focusing on developing into a better artist. I have always wanted to create art that would make people happy, make them smile and bring them joy. So wanting to continue with that is nothing new, but I think it is getting more focused. How I express that with subject matter, color and technique may be changing. I’m a work in progress. I do not want to have gone through this ‘thing’ and not come out of it a better person. Even if I end up being a 30 year survivor and not change and grow as a result of this experience I would be a failure. Even if I die from a recurrence or a new cancer, if I become who I am supposed to be I am a winner. This is all still very new to me and I don’t know where I will be in a year or five. I do think my former self would say” You go girl! You’re finally getting it right. Keep it up.”

    • This is for Sandi on the energy thing. I finished treatments in the summer of 2011. I feel bit by bit my energy has returned, including my strength. I do have, although they are less and less, what I call flashback chemo days where I just fill drained. On those days, I just have to let it go and rest.

      • Thanks Dianne. I am getting my energy back….50% back 75%? Don’t know, can’t tell. I know I get tired much much faster and get out of breath easily, still. I used to be able to go at it strong all day. Now I can’t get close to that. But I know it will get better, ,though I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to what I was before. It’s just good to be alive to experience whatever life has in store. And I agree, thanks Denise for your contribution to us all.

      • Thanks so much, Sandi. I’m still getting energy back which still surprises me. I will be
        3 years out from starting it all this weekend. Yesterday I did a whole bunch of stuff that
        even a year ago I wouldn’t have been able to do, plus stay up late!
        I went away for the weekend with my sister a few weekends ago. The last time we had done that
        was about a year ago. She commented what a difference she noticed in my energy levels! That
        made me feel good. You have a lot of energy that will be returned to you!! It’s coming!!
        Don’t get too discouraged, because it will improve greatly!!!

    • Sandi, I LOVED your post. Thanks for sharing it! It was so beautiful and
      inspiring. I can tell you are an artist and that your talents will expand
      with the suffering of cancer. Your aspirations to bring joy make me
      want to do that more often!! THANK YOU!!!!

    • Betty, thanks so much for commenting. It means so much to me!
      I appreciate your reading what I write! I know we all share in
      our experiences and with our “sisterhood” we all GET IT!
      Sending a hug!

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