If you are rounding the final lap of treatment and about to step out the doors of the Cancer Agency for the last time (at least until your first follow-up appointment), perhaps you are faced with questions like:
- Am I ready to go back to work?
- Why do I feel so disengaged from conversations with my friends and family?
- What if the cancer comes back and I have to face treatment AGAIN, or worse, what if it comes back and it's not treatable?
Here is excerpt from one of my January 2011 posts, Picking Up the Pieces, when I was navigating through a field of emotional land mines, searching for what the hell was supposed to come next:
For me, the transition from healthy person to cancer patient in October of 2009 grabbed me by the neck and throttled me. I reeled from my emotions, but the shock and fear made sense to me (even seemed like the appropriate, socially acceptable response). What I did not see coming was the overwhelming transition that I am now faced with. The transition from patient back to healthy person.
In this post, I share a quote from the book of the same name, Picking Up The Pieces by Kathy Scalzo and Dr. Sherri Magee. It's one of the best books I have found for navigating the conflicting emotions that can come along with survivorship.
Ironically, the emotional sh!tstorm I faced when coming out of treatment was the catalyst to making a decision to Jump Off The Cliff (not literally), quit my job, and travel to volunteer in South Africa in April of 2011.
Since then, I've become addicted to cliff jumping into big dreams and recently had the chance to chase a Big Hairy Audacious Dream on a volunteer trip around the globe. In the month since I returned to Canada, I've reflected a lot on my Adventure of Hope and the 18 months leading up to this point. This redesign of my life has felt right for me, even if it hasn't been easy. As I wrote in the same post, it started with a face plant into my fears:
So, although my cancer journey will finish, the real work of picking up the pieces of my life has just begun. The thought of shaping those pieces into a brand new identity scares the crap out of me.
So here’s to all of you out-of-breath swimmers who have the courage to join me as we dive into fear and sadness. You brave dog paddlers who teach me to make no guarantees about how or when we’ll make it to the other side. And, here’s to the friends and family who tirelessly cheer us on from the bleachers. Even if they don’t recognize us in our wet, bedraggled, chest heaving state as we climb out of the pool, we appreciate that they will do their best to love us anyways.
Over the last year, I have learned how monumental the challenges of reinvention and reintegration can feel. Thank God for communities like Facing Cancer and the people who help us make it across the divide and into the next phase of whatever we decide we want life to look like. (I hate the phrase, the "new normal", but I think you know what I mean).
If you feel scared, sad, or alienated by your fears about what comes after treatment, I promise, you are not alone. Many of us have been there and will continue to wade through the murky pool of questions and fears that, unfortunately, may never entirely disappear.
To manage my own fears and questions, I've become a subscriber to the "life is short, I'm going to live the hell out of it while I still can" philosophy.
On that note, I’m not ready to hang up my Big Hairy Audacious Dreaming shoes. In February 2013, I have big plans to take a group of 8-12 cancer survivors, a researcher, and a videographer to New Delhi, India so we can see just how powerful international volunteering and cultural exchange can be for survivors.
If you feel like you need a big adventure to help you kick off your post-cancer chapter. I would love you to join us. Or, if you have a story about what you did to help move forward after treatment, I would love you to share it. Let's support each other as we ask the question, "Now What" and then bravely put one foot in front of the other as we step into an unknown, but potentially wonderfully exciting, future.