Since receiving my diagnosis last year and undergoing months of treatment, I am finally regaining a sense of well-being after cancer.
When diagnosed with cancer, life changes in so many ways. A fairly common effect is the loss of a sense of well-being. Gone is the confidence that you are healthy. All of a sudden, a nagging little pain or fleeting discomfort you would have assumed was nothing before cancer becomes a big deal and another thing to talk over with the doctor on the next visit. I imagine the ongoing treatment and risk of side effects or infection contributes to this feeling of needing to keep track of each ache, pain, or anomaly and ask the doctor if it is normal. For months, a doctor wants to know all of those little things, which creates a hyper-focus on how the body is functioning and feeling.
Once treatment ends, that hyper-focus remains, but the ongoing follow up and reassurance of having the knowledgeable doctor regularly tell you your complaints are nothing to worry about is no longer there. Making that shift from being dependent on someone else to tell you that you are okay to analyzing the facts and believing you are healthy is one of the transitions faced at the end of treatment.
Similarly, the possibility of a recurrence can lurk in the mind and cause worry and stress, especially when faced with follow up tests and procedures. Certainly, having faith helps with all of those doubts, but the reality is I was a person of faith when I got cancer. I still had cancer.
So, right now, I find myself in the lull between treatment and the first round of follow up testing to confirm what we believe the chemotherapy accomplished. Almost all the time, I live with a sense of peace and an expectation of a long, healthy life. But, on occasion that lurking thought in the back of my mind rears up and causes a momentary worry that passes quickly. I am grateful for these moments because they are reality checks for me. Yes, the reality is I had cancer and there exists the possibility that it could come back. But also, I have faith in God and in modern medicine and I believe that the treatment I underwent rid me of the disease and will prevent a recurrence.
What does regaining a sense of well-being after cancer and the end of my detour mean for my life? Loads of change for one thing! Life will be different. My body functions differently now. I look at life differently. I have to be more purposeful. For example, a huge focus is what goes in my mouth. Is it good for me and will it help my body function optimally? Another important change has been (nearly) daily exercise that lifts my spirits and gives me time to talk with friends who sometimes accompany me on my walks. I have come to love spending time walking outdoors and the time for reflection that comes with my footfalls on the cement. The elliptical is a nice inclement weather back up, but doesn’t allow for reflection in the same way.
But, most importantly, I have learned to focus on people and not just tasks. Being a goal-oriented person, I have spent years working toward this or that end, and have enjoyed the challenges. However, over the past months, I have enjoyed the time for conversations with old and new friends. Connecting or reconnecting with friends has made me feel more fulfilled than spending long hours at work or trying to meet some goal I had set for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I will still strive to be an exceptional teacher, but I also want to live with balance so that I can also continue to be a good friend.
And regaining a sense of well-being after cancer means the lurking thought in the back of my mind that someday cancer might come back only makes me realize I have a limited number of days allotted to me and I need to make each day count.