Finding the New Normal After Chemotherapy
During the past few weeks, I have been trying to find the new normal after chemotherapy. Although I am thrilled to be finished with ongoing treatments, I am not yet back to normal activities. With enthusiasm, I have increased and broadened my activities, while still maintaining precautions against exposure to illness or overtaxing myself.
Fatigue and Lagging Stamina
However, I have found my stamina has eroded over the past few months and if I become too ambitious, I need a couple of hours of sleep in the afternoon. It has been surprising how fatigue creeps into my daily schedule. Other cancer survivors have told me that I might need naps for a long time, but I have high hopes for a speedy recovery. Nevertheless, as I face the reality of going back to work and getting on with life, I wonder what unexpected physical limitations might crop up.
These few weeks between the end of treatment and being released to return to work and daily normal activities have become rather like living in limbo. My chemo treatment schedule no longer rules my calendar, giving me much more freedom to fill my days with other things. However, since I have not yet been released back to my regular activities, it has become a balancing act to try to find productive activities that allow me to regain a sense of normalcy in life while still protecting me from infection and fatigue.
Catching up on regular medical exams and dental care has filled some of the time, but I find cabin fever to be increasing as time marches on. Still, the dilemma of what I can do depends largely upon my energy level and whether or not an activity will expose me unduly to possible illness. For example, I used to drive myself to visit family or on road trips without a second thought. Now because fatigue sets in, I do not venture very far when driving myself, but instead depend upon the kindness of others to transport me here and there. It has been a limiting lifestyle adjustment that I hope will be short-lived as my energy level and stamina improve.
Lingering Side Effects
Many of the side effects from chemotherapy have abated over time. Happily, my hair has begun to grow back again, filling in the balding spots I worked to cover during chemo. Still, a couple other side effects are lingering longer than I would like. While I still hope that they will go away eventually, and I realize it is early days yet, only time will tell if they remain or not. Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN) is one side effect that continues to plague me. At times it seems less bothersome than others, but often in the evening, it seems to intensify and feels as unpleasant as ever. In my next appointment with the oncologist, I will ask him about trying some of the remedies others have suggested, in addition to the vitamins recommended. So, I am waiting to see what the new normal for these side effects will be.
Living Strong, Living Well
To help regain strength and stamina, I have registered for Living Strong, Living Well, a twelve week program sponsored by Stanford University that is designed specifically to help recovering cancer patients once they have finished treatment. Although I have rarely been a regular at the gym, I look forward to starting this program in a couple of weeks at a nearby YMCA and hope to see noticeable improvement quickly. I want the new normal to feature a strong me.
Finding the new normal after chemotherapy in relationships is an ongoing process. Many have walked through this detour with me, enabling a new normal to develop in the process. We have already identified and adjusted to subtle and not so subtle changes that emerged during my cancer detour.
However, for those at work or others who were otherwise distanced, I will have to find ways to reconnect with them and to move forward without having to relive and recount every detail of the detour. Establishing boundaries will help me to resume normally activities and pick up relationships that have been on pause, while maintaining balance and perspective, as well as keeping me from constantly reliving the ups and downs of chemotherapy.
How to form new relationships authentically as a cancer survivor will also be part of finding the new normal. The cancer detour is part of my story and has shaped who I have become. How my experience impacts the development of new relationships will be part of finding the new normal after chemotherapy. I look forward to the adventure!
Thankfully, in addition to family and friends who have supported me throughout the cancer detour, there are many resources available to help in finding the new normal after chemotherapy. Both the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute offer online resources to support patients making the transition from active treatment to normal life. And, the Silicon Valley is replete with resources, such as the Living Strong, Living Well program and plentiful Survivor Support Groups available through different agencies and non-profits, like Cancer CAREpoint.
Undoubtedly, there will be unexpected challenges as I am finding the new normal after chemotherapy, but I look forward to facing each challenge with faith and hope.
Thank you for your continued love, prayers, and support as I wrap up this cancer detour!