Once cancer treatment is over, many of us find ourselves trying to get back to the way we used to be before diagnosis. We get so eager to jump back to the activities we used to do and eat the foods we used to love. On top of that, the hair starts growing (sometimes, it is out of control and not the same anymore). Our loved ones are also eager to get us back on our feet. We find ourselves doing the things that others once helped with. On a brighter note, it does show how strong we have become.
Nonetheless, we need to remember that everyone is different and recovery time differs among survivors. As soon as the treatment was over for me, I was tired -- felt fatigue most of the day. I don’t let cancer define me, but the remains of the treatments and even the side-effects of the new medication linger in the body. It is harder for me to recover from a cold, a cut, and even from lack of sleep. I wondered why it was so difficult to get back to the old me? I remember hearing survivors say, “the new me” when describing themselves after cancer. I finally realized what that meant. I stopped beating myself over the fact that I was not the same anymore – I can’t pick myself up like how I used to; but now, I am learning to Embrace Change – embracing the new me. This part of the journey is a learning process for me. In fact, I think everyone around us can learn from understanding that cancer survivors go through learning to embrace their new self; so should their family, friends, and co-workers, too.
Two years after treatment, I still have good and bad days. I find myself no longer fighting for my life (i.e., beating cancer); but now, fighting life itself. What I mean is that since I am still finding my new self, I sometimes find it stressful because I can’t just get up and go like how I did in the past. It is now harder for me to balance work and other responsibilities, such as “aunty duties” -- picking up my nieces from school and bringing them to their extracurricular activities (which I don’t mind) and running errands for the family. Multitasking has also become a task in itself. I find myself stressing out trying to complete everything that I feel is important; which in my world, is everything. As I move on – as I move forward, I feel it is important to not only survive, but thrive.
"Life is worth living -- we need to find things in our lives
that we enjoy and love without stressing ourselves out."
I came to a realization that I am going to do whatever I can to welcome the challenges of everyday life by first loving myself. It is taking care of oneself first so that we can be strong enough to handle what comes our way. It is cliché to say, “Life is short;” so I am going to say, “LIFE IS WORTH LIVING” – we need to find things in our lives that we enjoy and love without stressing ourselves out. We need to love ourselves.
I understand how important it is to take care of my health; therefore, I am taking care of myself by being more proactive. Before cancer, I was athletic – enjoying sports and jogging; sometimes a run. During treatment, I had a hard time walking for a long period of time; let alone, walking up the stairs of my house without getting tired. Today, I am stronger!!!
Here are some things I am working on to take care of myself after cancer:
1. Reduce stress: Stress is not good for anyone!
It is definitely easier said than done. I am guilty of stressing out on some of the small things in life because to me, everything seems so important. Life can be so busy with work, running errands, and family responsibilities, but I remind myself that “there is always tomorrow.” We truly need to give ourselves some time to breathe. Lately, when I feel overwhelmed and stressed out, I take the time to do some diaphragmatic breathing exercises. This works for me a lot and it helps with anxiety as well.
2. Exercise: Exercise is very important to help build strength, maintain weight, as well as destress from a long day.
Exercise has now become a big part of my life. I am now attending exercise classes that helps cancer patients get back on their feet and building strength to overcome the challenges of the side-effects treatment has caused. With the new me, I am getting physically stronger and learning to cope with the changes. I may not be running for a long period of time or playing a lot of sports like before, but I feel I am getting there. There are days when I may not feel up to exercising and that’s okay. I don’t beat myself over that; I just take it easy once in awhile.
3. Sleep better: Getting enough sleep is also important, especially for recovery.
I have to say, I struggle with this a lot. During treatment, it was hard for me to sleep – felt like I had insomnia. Today, it is not as bad, but still feel that I am not getting enough rest. However, with exercise, it helps me to sleep better. I also bought an eye mask and a blackout curtain for my room. These little things have helped me a lot. If you have a hard time falling asleep, maybe you can try one of these things. From my experience, a good night’s sleep and a nap surely helps me function better and fights off the fatigue.
These are just a few things I have been doing to help myself get back on my feet. Like I mentioned, I still have those good and bad days, but I will not beat myself over the small things that I can’t control. Just remember, it is okay to give ourselves a break from time to time. It is important to know what our limits are -- we are the only ones who know exactly what we need. In our own journey, we sometimes get caught up in taking care of everything around us, but we tend to forget ourselves. It is imperative to remember to care for ourselves; and with that said, I leave you with a quote by Mandy Hale, “It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself and make your happiness a priority. It is necessary.”