*Featured Post* What happens after cancer treatment ends?

A reader has contacted me to say that she is struggling with her feelings six months after her treatment for breast cancer ended.  She asked if I would address the topic here and hopes that readers will respond with some advice for her, or, as she says, at least a feeling that I am not alone, or going mad.

With Ann’s permission I am using some extracts from her email.

I was taken completely by surprise at the feelings which I had post treatment. I expected to feel elated and free. No one had warned me I would feel this bad. I feel as if there is something seriously wrong with me..as if I am going mad. I also feel really ungrateful that I am not happier now that I have finished my treatment. I feel so sad and weepy all the time.

The first thing I told Ann is that she should remember just what she had been through – a very tough experience, physically and emotionally, and to understand that it takes time to recover. You may find that it is only when your treatment has finished that the full impact of everything you have been through hits you. And you may be taken by surprise at the intensity of your feelings of vulnerability, fear, sadness and depression.

Feelings of Guilt

Ann also writes:

I feel guilty that I am not making more of my life. When I was going through treatment, I made all sorts of plans for what I would do when I finished.. I was really going to make the most of my life, now that I’ve been given a second chance…but I am too tired and overwhelmed to do any of those things.

I know from personal experience that I felt just like Ann – I was going to give up my job, write a book, travel more, be happier….but often this kind of pressure to seize life with both hands, because you’ve been given a second chance at life, can backfire, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and depressed. Ann also needs to remember that she is still battling the side effects of treatment – she needs to give herself time to build up her strength and fitness levels before tackling any big plans for her life.

Feelings of Anger

Another thing that Ann is struggling with is anger, again a normal reaction.

I was never an angry person, but I find myself seething when people tell me how lucky I am to have “beaten cancer”. I don’t feel lucky, or rather I feel guilty that I don’t feel lucky. Is it lucky, I want to say, to have lost my breasts? My hair? And to be experiencing an early menopause? They also think I should just put this experience behind me now, be grateful and get on with my life, but I’m not finding it so easy to move on.

Other people’s expectations can make you feel angry. Whether they are telling you how lucky you are to be alive, or they are pressuring you to get back to your old activities, their attitude can make you feel misunderstood and unheard. Often friends and family mean well – they just don’t know the right thing to say to you. So tell them. An open and honest dialogue may be just what you need to clear the air and take the edge off some of that anger.

Finally, what I want to say to Ann, is that she needs to honour the fact that cancer has changed not just her body but her emotional and psychological landscape has also changed dramatically. She needs to give herself time to find a new way to be in the world. Now that active cancer treatment has ended for Ann, the time for real healing begins.

What are some of the feelings you experienced after you finished your treatment?  Have you any advice which could help Ann with her post-treatment feelings?

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The story doesn’t end here…

You’ve survived cancer. ‘Now What?’

Report claims not enough being done for cancer survivors