Over the years since my cancer was diagnosed and treated, I’ve become aware of the new trend addressing survivorship issues. The recent issue of Cure magazine came with supplement included, Surviving Well. It documents many things those of us who have been diagnosed with cancer know…it’s a long road, and the time after treatment ends can be just as difficult as being diagnosed was initially.
My heart goes out to those who finish treatment as I know that is the beginning one of the more difficult roads on the cancer journey; and about that time, those around us with no cancer history expect us to be return to our old selves, to put cancer behind us and to resume our pre-cancer lives where we left off. But we can’t. This period of time has become known as the season of “Transitional Survivorship”. It is an emotional time of anxiety, fatigue, grief, insomnia and fear of recurrence. We are acutely aware of our own mortality, we feel a loss of the ability to control our lives and our futures, we have to readjust to the work environment, have a mountain of medical bills to pay, and relationships to those around us change. For many women who have had an appendix cancer surgery, we’ve lost our ovaries, so this period of time is also an adjustment to surgical menopause and all of the emotions and physical changes surrounding that. It’s emotionally a very difficult time. It is said the longer our initial cancer treatment, the longer this transitional phase lasts. And for appendiceal cancer patients, the surgery is major, the recovery time long, and chemotherapy prolonged.
In the Surviving Well publication, a woman interviewed struggled emotionally and finally joined a support group to help with emotional healing three years after she finished treatment. The American Cancer Society found that 30% of survivor have long-term emotional effects even after 11 years of survival. I’ve been in touch with about 700 appendiceal cancer patients, and for almost all, the emotional recovery in the aftermath of treatment has been much more difficult that their physical recovery from surgery and chemo. The transitional phase can be a long one.
I am blessed; having lived in the “Transitional Survivor” season for many years, I am finally entering the “Permanent Survivor” season. I worry less about recurrence, I’ve started making future plans again, I don’t think of cancer every day, I don’t get as many tests done, I feel less vulnerable. I feel a little more in control of my life and my future…though I know I am at risk for second primary cancers related to treatment and that there are no guarantees I won’t have a recurrence. I treat myself better and make better use of my time. I live more purposefully. I have many new friends and stronger relationships in my life. I’m not the same person I was before cancer, but I like myself and my “new normal” better now.
But it took a long time and many emotional struggles to get here. It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, easy to get here, to the place I am now.