The Post Cancer Letdown

by Jennifer AnandOctober 14, 2019View more posts from Jennifer Anand

You finished your cancer treatments! Yayyy! The world is your oyster! Get out there and kick butt!

It should be the happiest and best time of your life- now that you have one again. But for myself, and so many others, it’s not. I’d say it’s the second worst day, right behind the “You have cancer” day.

Why? Because you’re on your own.

You can live again, but you’re picking up the pieces from your former life. For your cancer time, you had the incredible support and resources of a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, plus all the family and friends who fill your Facebook feed with “Fight like a girl” and “Someone I love has cancer” motivational quotes.

So that wonderful, amazing, phenomenal day is actually the start of a nightmare. It means learning to rejoin the world of the cancer muggles. For AYA survivors, it can mean reentering college, work, or the dating world. All three of those are hard enough for cancer muggles, but now we have to attack them as well.

When I reentered college, I was no longer as concerned about who was taking whom to the Homecoming dance, or which girl was trash talking another girl behind her back. The Real Housewives of College no longer appealed to me, because I saw them in a trivial light. I had just fought for my life, and I was here to get an education and get my life back on track and I didn’t fit in.

I know we’ve all experienced the “friends” who suddenly deserted us, but also found those individuals who will remain our closest friends till our dying day. But the sting of the lost people still hurts. Dating while bald, or working while dealing with crippling fatigue aren’t easy. I’m so grateful to my hospital for listening to their AYA patients, and taking steps to ease us back into the cancer muggle world. But in case you, dear reader, are nearing the end of treatment or have completed treatment, here’s what I want to share with you.

The People You Need

Support Groups: No, I’m not talking about a full-on “Hello my name is…” depressing group of old people (sorry old people). I’m talking about your people. The young adults with cancer. The ones who just “get it.” Hopefully your hospital can point you in the right direction, but if not, hop on that World Wide Web and join a Facebook group. Stupid Cancer has regional FB groups, where often people ask “Is there anyone else in xx location”. IM them. Sign up for Immerman Angels or a similar connecting program. At the end of the day, only your other cancer peeps are going to be the ones who will understand the struggles and adjustments of rejoining the living world.

Find Your Persons

These are your cancer muggles. You beat cancer. Good for you! But every time you are tired, feel a swollen node, or have a headache the worrying fears will rush in. I had two incredible friends-Sharon and Ean. Sharon was the share-in-the-theatrics friend. She actually came with me to a doctor’s appointment an hour away on a college school day to make sure I was supported as I freaked out about a rash on my stomach and legs. She was there to cry, worry, and wonder with me. Ean was my solid friend. He was there to hear the facts, and present me with an encouraging word or Bible verse. He was the one who kept me grounded when my thoughts began to run away. There was no drama with him, only rationalization on whether or not the situation warranted worrying. Get yourself an Ean and Sharon, and keep them close. You’re going to need them in the reentry period.

PCP (Primary Care Provider)

This has come up a lot lately…my pediatrician’s office, who all my siblings still see and first diagnosed and continuously supported me, doesn’t see patients past 23. Hard and fast rule. When 24 year old me needed medication for a cold, they weren’t going to bend the rules. Oncology wasn’t about to let me hack all over their area either. I needed a normal, routine, dependable primary care provider. I think as cancer peeps we get all wrapped up in the oncologists and specialists we utilize during and oh-so-often after treatments. They’re great. But we also need a general doctor who is there for our general, minor issues.

As AYAs, we are going to be transitioning out of the pediatricians we’ve known and loved for years. Find yourself a good PCP and hang on to them tightly. I’d been really tired lately, and just wanted some blood work done. PCP. I had a cold and needed some antibiotics for my body to have a little extra help. PCP. I need someone who can refer me to “normal” doctors like dermatologists, ophthalmologists, and dentists. PCP. They’re the medical people you need in your corner when oncology is no longer on your speed dial.

This new stage in life, the unfortunate “New Normal”, is here. For better or worse. Richer or poorer. We are the lucky ones, even on the days that don’t seem like it. We’re still here. And we need to get busy living our lives. Doing the mundane. Doing the extraordinary.

But, like everything else we’ve learned during cancer, we cannot do it alone. Find your people, give thanks for them, and hold on to them for this roller coaster called life!

:-)