Since I just passed the 5-year mark of the end of chemotherapy, I realized that this year has brought much wisdom and was a huge turning point for me. It felt important to document my emotions and sentiments to pass along to those of you newly diagnosed and/or less than 5 years out from a breast cancer diagnosis.
- Your life never goes back to the way it was “before cancer”, as it is a pivotal life-changing moment. I think in terms of “before cancer” and “after cancer” in almost everything from a vacation that happened “before cancer” to a new friend I met “after cancer” to a rug I purchased “before cancer.”
- Flashbacks from treatment lessen, but occasionally still rear their ugly head. My sister is now 2 years out from chemo, and having lots of flashbacks. By talking with her, I realize how much less my flashbacks have gotten. Occasionally, I still have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome with flashbacks, but they have certainly subsided considerably. When they happen, I have learned how to talk myself off the ledge and live in the present moment. It has taken much practice and understanding!
- Sometimes I go a WHOLE DAY without thinking of recurrence. In those first few years, it is NEVER out of your mind – for most people even a few minutes out of your mind. Recently, I actually went through an entire cold/bronchitis episode without thinking I had lung mets (but family and friends always keep saying – “you better get checked” as I sounded so bad!) That is a first! Recurrence thoughts are always a part of you and your thought process. You become more used to living with the lion and learned coping skills to keep that lion from roaring all the time.
- If you have not had reconstructive surgery and had a single or double mastectomy, life with a prosthesis seems much more normal. The grief of losing your breast(s) lessens. So does living with numbness under the arm and in the breast area. It fades a little, but never goes away. Everyone forgets to tell you this little detail. And even 5 years later, I still have pain, limited range of motion and phantom breast pain. Phantom breast pain is the weirdest feeling as your breast itches or hurts, and it is not there to scratch!!
- If you had people who abandoned you during treatment, you no longer feel angry – just grateful that those relationships are no longer a big part of your life. Hearing from many women on this topic, most realize that those relationships weren’t ever that healthy for them, and that they always did most of the giving.
- Coping skills come back in social settings. For a long time, I felt like an alien – present but not really there. It is an odd and unusual feeling, but I know you understand! It gets better.
- Never do I take my hair for granted. I rarely think about being bald anymore, but I NEVER complain about a “bad hair day.”
- My gratitude for life has never lessened in 5 years. Every day I am grateful that I survived. Never do I take life for granted, which is definitely a blessing of cancer. I still marvel and thank God for the miracle that I am alive. Every single day, it is the first thing I think of when I awaken!
- Every time I hear of someone who dies from cancer, it flashes through my head, “Wow, I am so fortunate to still be here” and always there is a slight glimmer of guilt. People still ask me “How are you doing?” My answer is always the same – “Good, I’m still here.”
- I am still satisfied with so much less than I used to be. No longer am I looking for the next thrill, or big life moment, or extravagant purchase, or vacation to fill a void. Satisfied with life is the best way I can describe it!
I hope my lessens along the way are helpful to you. It is an extremely long and excruciating process. Do not be too hard on yourself or wonder why you still feel the way you do. It takes much time and healing.
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