Today marks one year since my last chemo infusion. I wanted to share my experience, because I had no idea what to expect. Obviously your experience may be different, depending on your physical condition before and after chemo, the type of chemo you received, and whether you had other treatment. But hopefully it’ll give you some expectations.
It Takes Time to Heal
I was so naive. I legitimately thought I would get past the cycle (three weeks) and then things would be smooth sailing. I knew that the chemo would clear your body by six weeks. And then I figured I would bounce back quickly.
Not so. It’s a slow, long process. Remember, you’ve just had toxic chemicals pumped through your body several times. Your body is reeling right now. For me, I was so weak and worn out. A year later and I finally have the energy that I did before. My strength and stamina, however, are still in the build-back process.
My point is that it takes time. Lots of time. Which leads me to…
Be Kind to Yourself
I struggle with this so much. I expect a lot from myself (consciously or otherwise). So when I wasn’t walking on the treadmill for three miles just a few weeks out from chemo, I was frustrated. And when it still wasn’t happening 5 or 6 months later, I was angry at myself. What was wrong with me?
But I realized that pushing myself when I wasn’t ready wasn’t good either. So instead of focusing on “traditional” exercise I had to adjust my expectations. I may not do strength exercises, but I did yard work for a couple hours. I may not run around my subdivision, but I chased Mischa around the yard. It all counts. Do what you can and what makes sense.
Learn to Say “No”
I’m a “yes” person. If you ask me to do something or help with something, I’m onboard. But that enthusiasm didn’t translate this year. Sometimes I just couldn’t.
For example, I had someone ask if I would speak at an event several states away. Normally I would be all over it–this is fun stuff! But when I thought about the logistics, I was already tired. I just couldn’t do it. And even if I mustered all of my energy to do it, other aspects of my life would suffer. So I declined the invitation. I felt bad about it at first, but I realized that I had to prioritize me. Quite honestly, I hope that’s a lesson that I won’t forget, even when I forget about chemo.
People Won’t Understand
Six months after chemo, I remember a long-time client asking how I was feeling. I told him the truth: I was getting better, but still tired. He was shocked that “even after all this time” I wouldn’t be back to normal.
Get used to it. I don’t fault people for not understanding; unless you’ve experienced it you can’t possibly get it. But it’s a huge change. People know you won’t feel good during chemo, they don’t realize that feeling lasts so long. Don’t let that discourage you or make you feel bad about it. Take all the time you need.
Learn to Prioritize
When you don’t have enough energy to do everything, you just have to do the things that are most important. For me, that was work, Mischa, and then household chores. That meant a lot of times I didn’t do many dishes during the week. I couldn’t. I didn’t have the energy. So I did them on the weekend. Trust me, it wasn’t the end of the world.
Figure out the things that matter. The things that need to get done right now. And recognize the things that can wait.
Note the Victories
I often felt discouraged over the last year. But I also recognized when I was making improvements. There was going back to work full time. Feeling like I could do more than lay on the couch after work. Not taking a nap on both Saturday and Sunday. Being able to put away all the laundry at one time. Having energy on Friday night. Eventually taking Mischa for visits to the nature trails.
Be sure to note those accomplishments. Because they are a big deal. And they’ll keep you moving forward.
Listen, diagnosis and treatment of cancer was a journey. A hard journey. But getting back to normal (whatever that means now) is a journey too. It won’t happen over night. You just have take one day at a time.
As always, if you’re facing a cancer diagnosis and have questions or concerns, I’m more than happy to chat. Sometimes the unknown is the scariest part.