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help moving forward after treatment

katienavs's picture
Posts: 88
Joined: Nov 2006

i finished chemo (13 rounds of folfox) eight weeks ago, had my ileostomy reversed four weeks ago and am doing very well with my physical health. however, i am having a very hard time moving forward emotionally. a little background... 25 yr old female diagnosed with stage iv rectal cancer with liver mets a year ago this week. have been NED since december. and now i just have so many emotions (fear, sadness, and anger) that i don't know what to do with.

from the day i was diagnosed my focus has been on fighting and looking toward the next step; chemo, chemoradiation, surgery, more chemo, reversal surgery. while focusing all of my efforts on being strong, hopeful, and determined, i pushed my emotions to the side and silently hoped they would be gone by the time treatment was done. now that the next step involves the unknown and a whole lot of waiting, i think without actively fighting the cancer i am not distracted from my feelings.

i know the anger, sadness and fear are experienced by almost all regardless of age but i do think my age has something to do with some of my emotions and how i relate or fail to relate to my peers. i suppose i am jealous of my friends' health and ability to lead relatively worry-free lives while beginning careers and having fun dating. and their fertility of course.

i've been looking forward to getting on with my life and returning to normalcy for quite some time now but it's not as great nor as easy as i thought it would be . yes, it is wonderful to be cancer free and i feel extremely lucky to be where i am today but this disease doesn't leave anyone unchanged and returning to the life i previously had is not possible.

i guess i would just like to hear if anyone can share what helped them move on and let go of some of the left over emotions. i know this is a very individualized process but i am hoping that hearing from other survivors will help. thank you.

Posts: 32
Joined: Dec 2006

Dear Katie:
I recognized so much of myself in your post so I thought I'd write to share my experience. I, too, was diagnosed with stage IV rectal cancer. I was 43.

Like you, from the very day I was diagnosed, I was focused on the fight and committed to help my loved ones who were emotionally devastated. I never gave myself a chance to feel sorry for myself, or to feel other emotions, because I knew I didn't have a day to waste. It was serious.

Finally, after help & support from God, doctors, nurses, family and friends, I was declared NED.

Then all the emotions I'd pushed aside took over. Anger, saddness, fear, anxiety. I thought I must be wierd. But I had a very compassionate oncologist who told me that this was a VERY common reaction among patients! Once the fight is "over", he said, the real fear and anxiety can take over. Fear about the future, anxiety about recurrence, etc. He said that life after treatment can be one of the most difficult parts of this journey. His words gave me the permission I needed to start allowing myself to feel the rollercoaster of emotions I'd go through.

Sounds like you're on a rollercoast ride of emotions too. And yes, life and relationships are never the same. I can only tell you to hold on, let yourself feel your emotions. In my experience, the hills and valleys of emotions began to even out. But it takes some time. Be patient with yourself. You have been through so much in such a short time!!!

Also, I should mention that deep breathing exercises/meditation/prayer really helped to calm me down and clear my mind!

Good luck, Katie! You sound like an incredibly strong and intelligent person. You're an inspiration.

All best,
Aileen Hamilton

ron50's picture
Posts: 1729
Joined: Nov 2001

Hi Katie,
All of us are the sum total of our experiences. Some people live life completely free of strife and I truly wonder if they ever appreciate what they have . We on the other hand are fired in the kiln of adversity. How unfair is it for any young person to have to face their mortality particularly from such a frightening disease as cancer. Unfortunately ,unfair counts for nothing in our situation I guess it is how we react to it that counts.
I have survived stge 3 colon cancer for over nine years now and it still consumes a great deal of my non focussed thinking , those times when you lay awake in bed and your mind goes into replay mode and no matter what way you play it the results are still the same ,just like ground hog day. From my observations the only way to truly win against cancer is dignity. We cannot change what is but we can be dignified in our fight and yes even in our acceptance of enevitabilities that may be thrust upon us by this disease. All along I have chosen to fight cancer to the fullest , but I have accepted that I will never be the same as I was and that those changes will have a dramatic effect on me and the people around me. This has proven true and I have sufferred ongoing health problems and my wife has left me. But I have chosen not to dwell on it or blame cancer or life, somethings just are and I've learned to accept them.
Excuse my ramblings ,I'm not preaching to you, it's just that your post struck a note with me so I thought I'd bare a little of my soul to let you know that you are not alone and that we on this board care and understand,Ron.

Posts: 45
Joined: Dec 2005

Hi there,
Well I don't post to often, but I have been a member here since Sept '05, and have received enoroumous help and advice from this board. Your post brought many emotions back to me also, although I am only the wife of a cancer survior..my better half was stage 3 and now NED! First off, congratulations on your being NED...what a terrible thing to face at such a young age. Please try and focus on the here and now, and I know that is easier said then done, but how nice it would be for you to go ahead with your life and live it to the fullest! I think the best advice Mike and I received was "live one day at a time". I seem to have more of a problem doing that then he does..always the 'what ifs" for me! Once you are no longer seeing drs. on a daily or weekly basis you tend to feel frightened, but eventually you need to work past your fears, anger, or other emotions. You have been through hell and back and you have every right to feel what you are feeling right now, you are very new out of surgery from your ileostomy (Mike also had his reversed). There is hopefully something that you would like to work towards, or a hobby that you love, that perhaps you can focus alot of your time on, and as time does move on you will let go of some of these feelings that you are experiencing, but from what I have learned, this is totally normal, and is all part of the healing process. You are a true fighter, and hero, for beating this diease and I wish you all the best in happiness!

sladich's picture
Posts: 430
Joined: May 2007

I know exactly how you are feeling. I felt happiness but I also felt loss, fear, and sadness. You go through a long period of time fighting the cancer and all of a sudden you're done. It's a very scary feeling. It will pass. Hang in there.

alta29's picture
Posts: 435
Joined: Mar 2005

I really think it never goes away..It will get better, but you will have your days, especially during CT times. I am also stage IV...had a recurrance and now I am getting ready for another surgery....and also ready to hear the words NED....even if is for a while. What keeps me going is thinking that I will treat this as a cronic disease...I might be on chemo the rest of my life ( on and off ) or better yet..until they find the cure....I agree with Aileen...try to meditate and visualize yourself cured ....and pray...but you have to believe.....When "down" just come here and read all the positive outcome from some many IV friends here...I printed 2 years ago all the NED posts of our survivors...and I read them once in a while...it helps...
God Bless

robinvan's picture
Posts: 1014
Joined: May 2007

Hi Katie...
This quote from Sam Donaldson really named it for me when I was finished with surgery and chemo... "A cancer diagnosis can leave you feeling sad and scared, overwhelmed and isolated. Treatment can leave you physically devastated... Picking up the pieces during and after recovery presents it's own set of physical, emotional, and social challenges."
Susan Nessim has written an excellent book which I found helpful in making the transition from patient to survivor... "Can Survive: Reclaiming your life after cancer." There are chapters on "The Emotional Aftermath"(sound familiar), "Moving Beyond Fear of Recurrence"(a biggy for many of us), "Relationships", and "When the Resume Includes Cancer". You can probably find it at your library. Otherwise it's available from Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Can-Survive-Judith-Ellis/dp/0618004173)
I found that "reclaiming the future" was a real challenge but that gradually my horizon on the future kept enlarging.
Celebrate the good things, do what is "life-giving", and whittle away the "inessential". Your experience of cancer will leave you in very different place than many others in your generation. My hunch is you will move forward with a sense of wisdom, courage, and compassion which will serve you well in your vocation.

Peace and blessings...

"Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but rather, of playing a bad hand well!"
Robert Louis Stevenson

KathiM's picture
Posts: 8077
Joined: Aug 2005

Remember the feelings when you finally graduated from High School? All those years, someone else told you where to go, what to do...there were lots of tests to mark your progress...And then, one day..."Congratulations! You are free to live your life!!!".

Sound familiar? That's what happens after treatment, too...you are told it's ok to live life as you want...but your old life isn't there anymore to fall back on...mainly because your fight with the beast has changed you in many, many ways....

Realize there is a new you...and ACCEPT you...you have fought a fight bigger than most people will EVER fight in their lives...and have emerged VICTORIOUS!!!

Be kind to yourself, and just breathe. Realize you DO have time now...Trust in the greater picture...it WILL form....

Hugs, 2 years NED rectal cancer...1 year NED breast cancer...


vinny3's picture
Posts: 933
Joined: Jun 2006

What you are feeling is quite usual. You may return to a normal life but the normal is not the same as it was before. That doesn't mean it is worse. I think you will come to realize that you may appreciate "life" more than others your age. You can still set goals and expect to achieve them. Look at what you have achieved so far.


Posts: 1961
Joined: Aug 2003

I can certainly relate to what you write. I went through very similar emotions myself, on finishing treatment. I found it useful to read about this 'stage' -- and to discover that what I was experiencing was in fact normal (if you can use that word to desribe us!). I also sought out counselling at that time. I found that very helpful. My therapist told me that what I was experiencing was (similar to) post-traumatic stress. I felt so strong and determined throughout the entire diagnosis and treatment period and then kinda fell apart when my treatment ended. But this is normal and even (in my opinion) good and right. Thinking of you.

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