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A New Normal: Life After Cancer Treatment

If you or someone you know has just gone through cancer treatment— including any combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation—you might still be looking forward to the moment where it all ends.

Hearing “cancer-free” is a relief, but life after cancer treatment isn’t always as simple as it sounds, as I learned firsthand.

Don’t Expect to “Bounce Back” Right Away

I thought as soon as my treatment for stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma (breast cancer) finished in December, 2014, I would recover immediately, and so did my family.

Physically, however, it takes time to heal from surgery, and even several months of physical therapy depending on the procedure for the chemo and radiation’s effects on the body.

Then there’s the “scanxiety,” or fear the cancer is back while you wait for your blood work results.

Surprisingly, it can also be distressing when your cancer treatment ends. Suddenly, you have no more doctor’s appointments, exams or tests, and nobody checks on you for months at a time. I missed the nurses and other patients I befriended while receiving chemo each week. That’s when relying on cancer support groups, a fellow cancer patient or even a private counselor can remind you of how grateful you should be.

Chemo Brain Is Not All in Your Head

According to the American Cancer Society, many chemotherapy drugs can cause brain changes that doctors call “mild cognitive impairment” or “chemo brain.”

Cancer patients describe difficulties paying attention, remembering names or words, following a train of thought, and processing information. I’ve had have trouble recalling characters in a book I was reading or following the events of a movie I was watching.

The brain usually recovers from the cancer treatment, but chemo brain is real and completely normal, so tell your family and friends about it if this is happening to you.

Take It Easy

Strenuous exercise may not have as prominent a place in your life after cancer. Even if you’re an avid runner (like I was), physical pain caused by chemotherapy drugs, radiation treatments and surgery can initially slow you down. Residual side effects such as joint pain, dizziness and nausea may linger from medications.

Four months later, I’m still adjusting and getting stronger. Although I run much slower than I used to, my doctors say that daily exercise—both during and after treatment—is important to the healing process.

There May Be a New Normal

No part of your life goes untouched by cancer, so there’s a steep learning curve when figuring out what your “new normal” is. And yet, you find yourself equipped to deal with it for the rest of your life — and that’s the new fact of my life.

I have definitely changed for the better. I have successfully become vegan, quit consuming sugar and stopped drinking alcohol. I practice yoga several times per week to help me get stronger and feel more peaceful as I adjust to life after cancer.


Naomi Mannino is a health and personal finance journalist who specializes in helping consumers get the most from their health and financial choices. She enjoys sharing her personal experiences and never writes about anything she has not tried herself. You can follow Naomi on Twitter @naomimannino.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.

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