"Now What?" The Unspoken Reality of Life After Cancer | Warrior Sisters

"Now what?" Is a question that lingers in silence for many, after the chaos of cancer treatment is complete. As a Stage 3 Triple Negative Breast Cancer Survivor, I struggled with the question and the answer. Call me naive, however, while going through cancer treatments, I figured I would either die or get back to the life I was living. I've come to realize that life after treatment is filled with unspoken challenges and unexpected emotions. Now a 4 year survivor I want to share things no one tells you when facing a cancer diagnosis and the realities of life after treatment.

From the moment those life altering words are spoken "you have cancer" the whirlwind begins. There's intense rapid fire of testing, appointments, preparations and treatments for the fight of your life. The adrenaline is pumping through your veins, determined to beat the beast within you. When treatment ends, it's like crossing the finish line of a marathon with a flood of emotions. For me, I felt an amazing sense of relief, gratitude and happiness. I experienced a feeling of joy that I believed would never leave me......but it did.

As my body began to heal from the harsh effects of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries and radiation I eagerly anticipated returning to the old me and life I once had. Almost as slowly as my hair began growing back, the realization of how much cancer had changed me, and the fear and uncertainty of the future, slowly creeped into every crevice of my mind, paralyzing my thoughts and bringing a shadow over my newfound sense of hope. Despite the strides I had made in my physical recovery, the emotional scars ran deep. Anxiety, Depression, Fatigue, Insomnia and Nightmares set in as daily reminders that healing is not just about the body, but also about finding peace amidst the fear and uncertainty that linger in the aftermath of treatment.

No one tells you that the fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis doesn't magically disappear once treatment ends. Every ache, twinge and pain of my midlife body brought with it a gut wrenching fear the cancer had returned. Now that the hustle and bustle of treatment was over, my mind had more time to wonder, even on the brightest of days to the "what if" scenarios. I was afraid of things I had not given much thought to before. Deodorant, artificial sweeteners, hair dye, air pollution, processed foods, dairy, red meat and the list goes on. What brought me the greatest discomfort was the fear of recurrence and the obvious awareness of the new found me. 

Cancer has made me less tolerant of unfairness, rudeness, and negativity that seem to dominate our world. The carefree days of TGIF and girls nights out are limited by my new alcohol free life and quest for more sleep. I'm drawn to kindness, compassion, and authenticity which is not always easy to find. With not much choice but acceptance, I pressed forward with my new body and mind.  

Body changes are another aspect of life after cancer that often go unspoken. Cancer is rarely simple. Scars from surgery,  loss of body parts, changes in mobility, appearance and stamina are often part of the cancer package like it or not. Learning to embrace the "new normal" can be a journey in itself. It's okay to mourn the loss of our pre-cancer bodies. I am thankful for my body's resilience and strength that carried me through. My scars will always serve as a testament to the courageous battle that was fought.

Cancer can also affect relationships. With my diagnosis there was an outpouring of support which was truly appreciated, however it also came with some unexpected losses. When I shared my diagnosis with my closest friend they were supportive and encouraging, surprisingly that was our final conversation. Some friendships falter, unable to withstand the weight of the struggle, others deepened.

Isolation, grief, and anger are emotions that often accompany life after cancer, yet they are rarely discussed. It's okay to feel these emotions and more importantly to acknowledge them. Seek support if needed. I have found connecting with fellow survivors and online groups is helpful. While all of our stories may be a little different, remarkably we are commonly on the same path of healing. Together, we can navigate the complex life after cancer with courage, grace, and compassion.

As a stage 3 triple negative breast cancer survivor, I know firsthand the challenges of life after treatment. It's a journey filled with fear, uncertainty, and unexpected emotions. But it's also a journey filled with resilience, courage, and unwavering hope. So, to my fellow survivors, I say this: embrace the challenges, celebrate the victories, and never lose sight of the incredible strength that lies within you. After all, life after cancer may not be easy, but it's a journey worth taking, one day at a time.