Guest Post by: Cara Tompot
Social Media Addict, LGBTQ+ Advocate, Feminist, Cancer Activist
While the first few months after a cancer diagnosis typically is the most challenging, there is a different struggle that comes further down the line in cancer survivorship.
Instead of fear and worry, you’re left with anxiety and confusion. Rather than making quick yet carefully considered treatment decisions, you’re forced to figure out how to keep moving forward and how to get back to the life you had. Of course, life will never be the same.
That’s the thing about life-changing diagnoses. They do just that: Change your life. Forever.
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at 38 years old. At the time, she had a sporty 12-year-old son and a bouncing baby girl. Naturally, her cancer diagnosis changed a lot of things. In the immediate future, she worried that her children would grow up without their mother and wondered what would happen if she was not able to beat this treacherous disease. There was a distinct shift in her marriage, her friendships and her career.
Fast forward 23 years — more than two decades longer than her initial prognosis — and her life has changed many times since. While she no longer worries her children will grow up without their mother, she does worry her children will face the same diagnosis she did.
And while she no longer wonders what would happen if she didn’t beat the cancer, because she has beat the cancer, she still wonders how much longer she has and what toll her years of chemotherapy will ultimately take.
But my mother did not beat cancer to worry and wonder. She beat cancer to keep living, keep creating new memories and conquer more life-changing obstacles.
After a cancer diagnosis, your life often becomes a never-ending circle of platitudes. Between “make the most of each day” and “live in every moment,” we get it. Our survival is a miracle, but the expectation to constantly live life to the fullest just adds even more stress to our already complicated life.
Wait, there’s an expectation for cancer survivors?
We beat the odds. Now, we must continue to make the most of this miracle. So how can we manage these expectations and combat the added pressure? How can we take care of ourselves first? After all, we are the ones who survived. Here, based on life well-spent with my survivor mom:
8 Self-Care Tips for Cancer Survivors
You did it! Whether you were diagnosed six months ago or 20 years ago, congratulations! You’re a cancer survivor. So what now?
1. Think You First.
That’s right. Above all else, remember to focus on yourself. I know it sounds selfish, but you deserve it. Think about it: When the doctor told you about the cancer, for a moment, everything felt out of your control. How could this happen to you?
But now it’s not like that. You are in control of your choices. Whether it’s making a treatment decision or deciding to go back to work, that’s up to you.
2. Try Something New.
Hey, you just beat cancer. Why not try something new? Have you always wanted to travel to Europe? Or maybe you want to ride the tallest roller coaster at your local amusement park? It’s all up to you. Whether it’s something huge like international travel or simply trying to cook a new meal — go for it.
3. Do Something You’ve Always Loved.
Is there something you’ve loved doing since you were a child or young adult? When was the last time you did that activity? If your answer isn’t in the last year, now’s the time. Take an afternoon or day or weekend to do some of your favorite activities.
4. Meet New People.
Throughout my mom’s cancer battle, she has made more friends than a high school “It” girl. Between meeting people at chemotherapy treatments and connecting with other survivors at support groups, her social circle has grown. These new friends can have a major impact on your life because they understand what you are going through. That’s exactly what Trina, a 16-year mesothelioma survivor, and Raeleen, a three-year mesothelioma survivor, did. Both women were diagnosed on the same day 13 years apart, and the two bonded over a similar diagnosis.
5. Give Back.
It’s not uncommon to want to give back after winning a cancer battle. Whether you want to fundraise for a nonprofit (Cancer Hope Network?!) or become a mentor for someone recently diagnosed with the same cancer, you can make a difference. By giving back to others combating the same cancer, you can help them cope with the same life-altering decisions you did throughout your battle.
6. Get In The Zone.
Are you interested in yoga? Meditation? Tai Chi? These practices can help you cope with the anxiety you may face as a cancer survivor. By focusing on your mental health and awareness, you can ensure that you are taking the best care of your whole self. Exercise is essential to cancer treatment recovery. Some physicians won’t even perform certain operations if a patient is not physically active. Dr. Jacques Fontaine, a renowned thoracic surgeon, asks surgical candidates to walk up a set of stairs before offering surgery as a treatment option. Fitness is key throughout every aspect of a cancer battle – even survivorship.
7. Say No.
Nobody ever thought it would so difficult to say a short two-letter word. No. No. No. Yet here we are. All of the time, people feel obligated to say yes to various activities and events that you don’t want to participate in. Are you feeling overwhelmed or introverted? Say no. It’s okay.
8. Think You First…Again.
Sound familiar? I can’t emphasize the importance of making decisions for yourself. Do what feels right to you. If you aren’t a fan of the suggestions and thoughts I’ve shared here, that’s okay. They’re meant as advice, not orders. Do what makes you feel whole and right. Don’t let someone else’s expectations modify your ambitions, motivations and desires. Live your life the way you want to live it. After all, you’re the cancer survivor.