"Patients say they feel like they've been dropped into a void," says Julia Rowland, PhD, director of the National Cancer Institute's Office of Cancer Survivorship. "People don't realize that transitions are stressful." Even some doctors' recognition of the difficulty of cancer recovery is still evolving. "Some people get this blip up of distress, and it takes them by surprise," says Rowland. "'Why am I anxious and nervous?' they ask. 'I should feel good about this.' "
But it's hard to feel good when you're...
...exhausted: Many patients enter recovery still reeling from the aftereffects of some treatments. They may suffer fatigue, pain, "chemo brain" (the memory and concentration problems reported by some patients), or have trouble adjusting to a new body image. For the physical side of things, Rowland looks to the date of your first symptomwhether that was when you first felt a lump or were told you had an abnormal mammogramto roughly estimate your recovery time. If it took nine months from that first sign through the completion of treatment, your recovery may take at least that long.
...worried: Who wouldn't be concernedeven anxiousabout the cancer returning?
...rootless: When you were going through treatment, your schedule was set: Whether it was showing up for radiation treatments or quelling nausea after chemo, you had a routine, a purpose. It was a lousy plot line but you were the star of the show, with a team of medical professionals taking care of you, and, if you were lucky, the focus of love and support. Now you might feel alone.
One tool that might help you take charge of your new experience is the National Cancer Institute's online booklet Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment.