The post-treatment blahs

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

For many people the months following cancer treatment are more difficult than the treatment itself.

During treatment, your “job” is to be in treatment. You’re busy with appointments and you see the same doctors and nurses almost every week. At the same time, friends bring you meals, family members take on extra duties, and you’re left to focus on getting better.

Then you have your last radiation therapy treatment or chemotherapy session. You get hugs and congratulatory handshakes. There’s an expectation that everything in your life will suddenly revert back to normal.

Let me pop that bubble: everything doesn’t return to normal right away. Your body is tired. Your brain is muddled. You’re worried that the cancer will come back. And you miss the safe cocoon of your chemo nurses and radiation therapists.

What makes it especially hard is that the people around you sometimes expect you to bounce back almost immediately. They expect you to be your old self.

The post-treatment blahs are so common that I try to prepare people for them in advance. This is what I suggest:

  • Expect a post-treatment slump. Rather than being a time of celebration, the last treatment is sometimes the beginning of a funk. If you expect that funk, it won’t be so difficult.
  • Realize that recovery is not a straight line. You’ll feel better one day but worse the next. That’s normal.
  • Expect to be acutely aware of every ache and pain and immediately think the worst. Every headache is a sign of a brain tumor.
  • These worries become even more pronounced before doctor visits and tests. You scan your body for the slightest indication of anything bad.
  • Realize that cancer will continue to be front and center in your life for several more months. This fades with time. The second year after treatment is much easier than the first year after treatment.
  • Expect your family and friends to have less time to sit with you and listen to your concerns about living with cancer. They’re eager to get back to normal as quickly as possible.
  • There’s a good chance that you’re still processing what you’ve been through. Joining a support group or speaking with a therapist can be especially helpful during this transition phase.

Most of all, be patient with yourself. You’re still healing.


Click here for all of Bob’s columns

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