Anticipating Life On The Outside

To someone on the outside, I bet it makes sense that going through the rigorous treatment for cancer would be the hardest part of a diagnosis. Getting the diagnosis is earth shattering and the following treatment is no walk in the park. Hospital stays, surgery, radiation rays through the skin. Yeah, on the outside that doesn’t sound fun at all.

But from the time of my diagnosis, I’ve been on a focused path of being cancer-free again. I stopped going to work and instead woke up every day with only one job to do – get healthy again.

But what happens when I am healthy again? For six months, my life has been going to appointments, taking pills, dealing with fatigue and illness, and of course, walking the dog. But when the cancer is gone and I get a clear bill of health, how am I going to jump back into “normal” life as a citizen of the world again? I haven’t even been inside a shopping mall for six months!

In my opinion, being told you’re cancer-free is arguably harder than the initial diagnosis itself. With cancer I was told what to expect, but I have no idea what to expect of life post-cancer. Even as my hair grows back, the chemo fog lifts, and the fatigue slowly melts away, will I ever feel truly healthy again? There will always be a looming scan in the future and fear of hearing another diagnosis from a doctor’s lips.

Currently I am in this weird waiting period between my last chemo and a scan checking in on its effect. The scan will either show lingering cancer the doctors will want to radiate, or show no signs of cancer and I get to skip out of the hospital cancer-free once again.

But waking up cancer-free knowing what it’s like to wake up with cancer is not as relieving and joyous as it sounds. Especially in the first few months as my body slowly recovers and I learn to adjust back to my old life. As I adjust to being a girl in her 20’s again instead of that sick girl who watches too many movies.

I remember driving home from the hospital after being chained to an IV pole in the oncology ward for a month. It is so, so weird to be stuck inside one building for that amount of time. Kind of what I imagine jail to be like. Even though I was in my hometown the whole time, as I drove toward my house, it all felt so strange and foreign. My house was the same, but I was walking through it differently with a whole new perspective.

As I come closer to my cancer-free date, I feel very similar. Although this time I’ve been free to move around, it’s as if the news will allow me to step outside this bubble I’ve been living in for six months. In some ways it will be a refreshing breath of fresh air. In other ways, it will also feel so strange and foreign. The world will certainly look a lot different, and that can be scary.

I am not trying to be poetic here. In all seriousness, the first thing I’m doing when I’m cancer-free is walking into a bar and ordering a drink.

And then another.

Posted on January 10, 2012, in Cancer. Bookmark the permalink. 40 Comments.

  1. I think you deserve a number of drinks my dear ! Good luck with the scan, I don’t doubt you’ll have kicked cancers ass.

  2. growler, growler, Gowler! Growler! GROWLER!

  3. You are strong and an inspiration to all! Good luck, and enjoy those drinks :)

  4. You know, booze and swearing gets such a bad rap, but in a lot of circumstances, it’s really the only thing that will do!

    When you go into the bar, I hope you raise your drink and yell ‘Fuck yah!’, then throw ‘er back like a sailor. Or sip like a lady (who swears).

  5. If I was in that bar, I’d buy you a shot.

  6. You sound quite wise, well beyond your years.

  7. I agree, if I was at the bar I would buy you a shot too :)

  8. Hell yes to ordering a drink. That sounds like a fantastic way to burst the bubble a little bit.

  9. Yeah! If I could buy a drink for you I would! Is it possible to mail a drink? haha

  10. I know what you mean. I finished treatment in December and just got the results of my post-treatment full body scan. The scan was great and it appears we got all the cancer, but the doctor didn’t even use the words “cancer free” and I won’t be “in remission” until a year after my last treatment! It was kind of a letdown. But I’m very happy for you to hopefully be done with treatments and move forward with your life and get healthy again!

    • I’m trying really hard not to put too much value in words like “cancer-free” and “remission.” I think they’re just there to simplify our cancer status to other people. But if you want to get literal, there are cancer cells in EVERYONE, so no one is truly “cancer-free.” it’s just a matter of if those buggers are growing or not! Happy to hear yours aren’t anymore!

  11. You deserve to own the bar at this point! You will be healthy again, just as healthy as you were pre-cancer. My boss is a breast cancer survivor and honestly the healthiest person I know. You are such an incredibly strong person and your body is incredibly strong (even though it may not seem like it at this very moment). Rock on girl, go get life!

  12. Hi Susan….Wow we are having the same thoughts. As Thursday approaches and with it my last chemo treatment (hopefully) I find that I don’t know what to feel. Do you know how many txt messages I have received this week? And everybody wants to know if I’m happy, are you happy they ask? Are you excited?

    I really don’t know how to answer, because happy would be if somebody woke me up and said just kidding the last 6 months didn’t really happen, I mean that would be make me HAPPY! But how do I explain to all these people that no I’m not happy, don’t get me wrong I am glad that this is my last treatment and that I don’t have to be sick on the weekends anymore, I feel relieved, anxious and a sense of caution.

    I feel like somebody chewed me up and spit me back out and said, Ok there you go, grow some hair back and continue on with your life (again I’m happy and grateful I have a life to continue on with) but I’m not sure what happens now. And I can tell by the look on some peoples faces that they don’t want to hear how I really feel they just want to hear me say yes I’m happy and when I don’t say that they cant understand why. It has taken me so much just to be able to answer people when they ask me, How are you? I can finally say I’m ok with out having to go into the how cancer story and I’m proud of myself for that. Anyways, I hope you are doing good and that you get to have all the drinks you want!

    • Ah!! I relate to so much of what you’ve said! I too am approaching this cancer-free thing cautiously. I think having cancer has taken our sense of security away and we won’t live as carelessly as we once did. “Culture shock” is the only term I can think of that’s close to what going back to the real world feels like after cancer. It’s also important to note that the physical effects of treatment linger for a looooong time. I won’t magically feel better when the cancer is gone. It’s going to take me months, if not years, for my body to recover from the shitstorm it’s just been through. With that said, enjoy Thursday for all it’s worth!! xo

  13. The thing is, you were strong before, and you’re even stronger now. But on a different note, I can relate to this so much. Without a diagnosis or disease that, like it or not, has defined your life for the past year (or years, in my case) who are you? I am in no way comparing depression/OCD to cancer, but I have been so used to fighting that battle every day, that I wonder what it will be like when I finally climb that mountain (because I will.) How will I fill the time or spend my energy?

    The exciting thing is, you have a chance to redefine yourself as you adjust to your new life on the “outside.” You can use this experience to rebuild that identity and covet every minute of your new-found health and happiness. You made it to the other side, which is more than some people can say. And, of course, I drink to that. Virtual cheers to you!

  14. Weighting For 50

    I’d buy a round for everyone commenting and we’d all toast with you!!!! Look forward to the photo of bar and the drink! I know it won’t be long away!!!! Hang in there Susan!!!!!!

  15. Do you know how much I would love to buy you that drink? Just sayin’ ;)
    Been thinking about you, Susan.

  16. Maybe your first drink should be a pineapple and chipotle margarita! Not 2 things I’d think of to put into tequila, but it sounds absolutely intriguing!

  17. i think you have already redefined yourself, so the old you, well that gone. I think this is a chance to live outside the bubble yes, but more so outside life! Hmm, does that even make sense? haha. I am excited to see that next journey, but for now I will celebrate with you. Wish i could come have a drink and cheers that day! I will be doing so in spirit, thats for sure!

  18. Yep, I would say that you are definitely entitled to a few drinks my dear! Sending good thoughts your way!

  19. DEFINITELY go to a bar and order a drink or ten – in fact, you should drink some champagne!

    Also, I cannot agree with you more! When I was told I was cancer-free it was such a happy day full of relief. However, the days after I started to wonder what my “new” cancer-free life would be like. It can be tough because people that don’t have cancer/never have had it don’t “get” why the transition can be hard and instead they act like “Ok you’re cancer free, yay that’s great!” without taking into account your whole life was changed so suddenly and now you’re suddenly healthy all over again.

    Although it has been tough (but rewarding, amazing, wonderful and happy as well!!) you will get through it just like you got through the cancer diagnosis. I finished chemo in June and not a day goes by that I don’t think about all I’ve been through and how thankful I am to now be in remission, but I think it’s all part of the healing process. I can’t wait to read your after-cancer updates…I promise you’ll be feeling a lot better than you’ve felt for months!! :)

  20. Its been almost 3 years since I finished my cancer treatment. I remember having similar feelings to what you are describing now. I also felt like I had been so consumed with fighting the cancer and actively doing something about it, that once treatment was over I was no longer doing something to control it. I kind of felt like a “sitting duck” waiting for the bullet to appear again during a later scan. With 3 years behind me now I have realized that I am still doing something, eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, etc. and continuing with blood tests and scans to detect anything that might come up at an early stage. I now have a wonderful team of doctors who monitor me and who I can turn to if I should have a reoccurance. I have learned to live with the fact that I need to have frequent check ups and scans and even occasional biopsies. I actually am finally able to forget about cancer between scans now and my brain fog has finally cleared (it took about 3 years though). I still feel nervous before a scan and downright scared when I need a biopsy but so far all have come back OK. I hope and pray that your scan will be clear and you will be able to begin living an active life again. Things will just gradually start to fall in place for you and you will eventually find a new rhythm to your life that includes monitoring your health as well as fun, work, friends, joy, laughter and exciting adventures too.

  21. Well, it’s pretty obvious to me and your other cancer survivor readers who commented here that you are spot on. “This” part is hard in it’s own right…. BUT, after all this chemo, you will be able to manage a hangover like a champ! (Trust me). Cheers!

  22. wish we could come join you in having a drink :)

    never really thought about what happens after someone heals from their illness, thanks for sharing this

  23. If I were there, I’d buy you a drink!

  24. Unless I’ve missed a post or tweet saying you can eat it again, I’d pickup a chocolate cake too. :) Good luck, Susan! Will be thinking of you.

  25. Will you ever feel truly healthy again? Well, I can’t speak for your feelings, but maybe you will be even healthier. I relate so much to the shifts in your mindset on many things since you’ve been diagnosed. In many ways I know I am not “textbook healthy”, but I feel like I am the healthiest I’ve been in a long time in terms of taking care of myself, recognizing what’s important, and how I view my body and spirit. I sense that you have made profound progress along those lines.

    I hope you don’t think I’m trying to make light of your fears – they are certainly valid and legitimate. I’d be having a cow if I were you! I have just found that thinking of the good things can sometimes help shut those fears down and bring us peace.

    Good things are coming for you, I know it.

  26. Cheers to that. A nice glass of red wine perhaps?;-)

  27. Wow, such an interesting point. No matter what, even if (WHEN!) you are considered cancer-free, this entire experience has changed your life, forever. Your perspective has changed and your focus has changed. Above all, you are stronger for it – but that doesn’t change the fact that this next phase is going to bring a whole new set of challenges. I’ll continue to send prayer your way, especially given the pending scan coming up. xo

  28. I agree that it will be quite an adjustment for you as pretty much all of your energy has gone into fighting cancer these past few months! I wish I was nearby to buy you a drink and a chocolately dessert to celebrate! :)

  29. gosh you sure write well. and i can’t wait to have a drink with you.

  30. Ummm…AMEN. I have nothing to add – you nailed it. I’m in that waiting period right now, and that’s exactly how I feel.

  31. Anyone who goes throught the fight with cancer deserves to go get a beer!!!!!! I am praying.

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