Author: Ria Despi
Being diagnosed with any cancer is life-altering.
The unknown is scary. You become a warrior you did not choose to be. When active treatment and surgery are over, you look forward to becoming your old self again. But nothing prepares you for life after cancer.
Life after cancer is where the battle truly begins starting with the physical long-term side effects of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and medication. To the mental part, filled with emotions, fear of recurrence, PTSD, survivor’s guilt, and scanxiety.
Going through active treatment, I was in battle mode. I never really processed my emotions. My main focus was beating cancer, when I finished active treatment and surgeries that is when everything hit me.
When I looked in the mirror, I did not recognize the person I saw. The reflection that looked back at me was a woman I did not recognize. She had a missing breast, scars, baldness, dull skin, and puffiness on her face due to chemo and steroids. You can tell she was exhausted and mentally drained.
The mental part of survivorship is the hardest. The fear of recurrence lingers. Any pain or discomfort sends red flags. My mind can’t help but think it’s cancer! Doctor appointments and scans often lead to scanxiety. When I hear or read about a recurrence or death, I can’t help but feel some survivor’s guilt.
I believe that life after cancer comes in waves. We have good and bad days. I’ve learned to feel my feelings, but not to stay there too long. While healing is not linear, I have to continue to set boundaries as a form of self-care. I have accepted that it is okay to be vulnerable and seek help if needed.
I realized that I would never be my old self again. The person I was before breast cancer no longer exists. I grieved for her. It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of courage and strength. I’m taking the lessons that cancer has taught me and I’m using them to help others. I might have gone through cancer twice, but cancer does not define how I live my life.