I’m Cancer Free. So Why Do I Still Feel Anxious?

(As appeared in Everyday Health on April 10, 2015)

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Treatment is over. The poisonous toxins are no longer coursing through my every cell. My body is recovering and my energy is being refueled. My hair is growing. I’m seeing hints of familiarity in the mirror — what I was before this wretched disease took over.

I’m beginning to feel like myself again. My scans are clear and there is no evidence of disease.

A burden has been lifted.

But another one has taken its place.

Those outside the gates of Cancerland believe that life goes back to normal once treatment ends. It’s as if we get to press some universal play button and then proceed on our merry little way.

Life is never the same after cancer. The disease does not pause our lives, it redefines them.

Cancer is like a tornado ripping through a town in middle America. It tears through lives and leaves destruction in its wake. Like trees violently uprooted and thrown aside, so too are dreams and goals. Life doesn’t go back to normal after the dust settles. The survivors are left to survey the rubble and pick up what remains.

Discussing the realities of life after cancer can cause pain, grief, and discomfort. Some struggle to move forward because they are stuck living in fear. The “what- ifs” can be paralyzing. It’s easy to be consumed by thoughts of your own mortality even after you are deemed “cancer-free.” This disease doesn’t just affect your body, it also affects your mind. The battle against debilitating fear and anxiety is real. And can be more difficult to bear than treatment itself.

The slightest presence of pain can deliver thoughts of a recurrence. “I have a headache… Has the cancer spread to my brain?” “My stomach hurts; I wonder if a new tumor is growing there.” This mindset is ingrained. Throughout treatment you are constantly asked if you notice any new pain or experience symptoms. Therefore, like Pavlov’s dogs, you are intuitively trained. Even the smallest change is cause for alarm.

Being cancer-free is bittersweet. On one hand, finishing the treatments that have been wreaking havoc on your body is emancipating. But, on the other, the thought of no longer actively fighting the disease is terrifying. Many people have a love-hate relationship with these life-saving treatments. After saying goodbye to our chemo cocktails, radiation, or other therapies, we are left to pray and hope that cancer will no longer choose our bodies for its residency.

How do we live after cancer? Do we try and fill the shoes we wore prior to our diagnoses? Do we begin a new journey?

Many use their experiences with cancer to help others going through the same battle. Others say that cancer makes them better people and redirects their focus. For those who leave Cancerland, life is much more fragile.

Cancer gives you a new lease on life. As if the multitude of decisions we have made since diagnosis aren’t enough, we now must decide what to do with the rest of our lives. Often, life before cancer seems meaningless compared to the vast experiences and enlightenment we gain afterward.

We have looked straight into the eyes of death, and have come out on the other side. We have been beaten down, knocked around — and yet we have survived. Our faith has been tested and reborn. Hope has emerged from the ashes. Though we have lost much, we have also gained strength we never knew existed.

We are different. We have evolved, developed, and grown. We must acknowledge that even though cancer has affected every area of our lives, we have come out on top. Living every day is a choice. And choosing joy is vital to a healthy and happy existence.

5 Comments on I’m Cancer Free. So Why Do I Still Feel Anxious?

  1. Susan
    April 21, 2015 at 8:51 AM (4 years ago)

    Yes, we never really leave Cancerland but how we choose to live each day is a testimony of our own faith and spirit. Fear is a lie that destroys the time we have. I start radiation today and needed this reminder that each day is precious. Thank you, beautiful girl!

    Reply
  2. Linnea
    April 21, 2015 at 2:06 PM (4 years ago)

    This post is spot on! I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year and finished chemo in October. I can relate to every word of this essay. I often have difficulty explaining the storm going on in my head when they ask how i am doing. Thank you for providing me a tool to share with them. This should give my loved ones some good insight into my thinking. Beautifully done!

    Reply
  3. Allison
    April 22, 2015 at 2:39 AM (4 years ago)

    Awesome post! Congratulations on your cancer-free diagnosis! And most importantly for sharing your truth! I love what you have shared! Authentic and truthful!

    As you mentioned in one of your earlier posts, life happens, cancer, and other challenges, and we are never the same, forever changed. It’s rarely possible to push the play button and pick up where we left off before this life changing event.

    Some say we get to choose love over fear. Although is may sound simple, I believe it is a life long endeavor as we learn and grow. Wishing you all the best on your journey! May your life be blessed with all that makes your heart sing and your spirit soar! Thank you for sharing!

    Blessings of love and peace and may we choose love over fear in each and every moment! And may we be gentle with ourselves on this journey through life as we choose to embrace life and experience all the glorious blessings (as well as the challenges)! Whether it be the sounds of birds chirping, the dew drops in the morning, the sound of crickets or frogs, a warm cup of tea, a good book, a favorite tv show, a great song on the radio, a heart felt sharing with a friend, whatever it is that lifts your spirits and brightens your day, may we cherish these moments!

    It is also important to acknowledge, process, and release whatever comes up for us on our journey, and move forward in the best and healthiest way possible for each of us. We are all different and unique.

    May we all remember to listen to the whispers of the universe, to our inner knowing, to our intuition! We all have the answers within. However, sometimes we may need a little assistance along the way and that’s ok. We each get to choose what works best for us and there are so many options and possibilities.

    May blessings abound and may miracles unfold!

    Lots and lots of love!

    Allison

    Reply
  4. Carmen
    April 28, 2015 at 8:51 AM (4 years ago)

    This is the point wher I’m at in my life. Thanks

    Reply
  5. Nicky
    April 30, 2015 at 5:15 AM (4 years ago)

    This post really ministered to my soul. It has been two years since I finished treatment and in the last six months I have been battling lymphoedema as a result of surgery I had to have. You have articulated so well what I have often thought and felt over the last two years – particularly in the last six months – as I carry the reminder of the cancer in a very tangible way daily in the form of a leg that swells! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

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