The Last Day of Treatment, Time to Reinvent Yourself

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The day you have waited for since you began treatment, months ago, is finally here. After your last treatment, you sit down with your oncologist. She tells you that you don’t need to see her for a few weeks. You walk out of her office half elated, half numb.

Then it hits you. You are on your own! No one will be checking your vitals or your blood count to make sure you are okay. Suddenly,  it feels a bit scary to be on your own.

For months, your life has revolved around a treatment schedule, managing side effects and trying to function as best you can. Now your schedule has just freed up; you will be feeling better and your energy will be on the upswing. As your hair grows in, you will look better and healthier to yourself.

Family and friends will be thrilled that treatment is over. They want to see you looking and feeling well. If you start talking about what you have been through, and you will need to do so, some will encourage you to put it behind you. They want you to get back to your life before cancer. But you can’t. You are a different person. Life-threatening diseases, such as breast cancer, change us. We come to know the importance of time and start thinking about how we want to use it. During the long months of treatment, you’ve had time to reflect on what is important to you and what you want to do when treatment is over.

There are so many things to adjust to, and that takes time. If you’ve had reconstruction, you may still have additional surgeries ahead of you. There are changes in your self-image that need to be work through. Physical changes from surgery are daily reminders of your breast cancer experience that can cause depression, make you feel less feminine and be a problem in your existing intimate relationship or in forming a new relationship.

All of us, who have had breast cancer, must learn to manage the fear of a recurrence and not let it keep us from living and enjoying our lives.

If you are having trouble adjusting, make it easier on yourself by joining a support group. You will benefit from sharing and learning from women traveling the same road in survivorship as you are.

No, there is no going back to the way things were. It’s time to reinvent yourself, to give yourself that new beginning that will help you get over what you have been through and enrich your life. Reinventing yourself begins the day after your last active treatment.

Reinventing yourself begins with permission to do something you have always planned on doing but life got in the way. It doesn’t have to be huge, just something that makes you feel good about yourself or gives you a fresh direction, or  a new interest that sparks a renewed interest in life.

Following my first breast cancer, my new beginning was to try to write for publication. As an educator, I wrote work-related materials, grants and manuals, but I always wanted to try my hand writing articles for magazines.

After a few rejections, I began to get acceptance letters. Seeing myself in print was a real boost to my confidence, so much so that I approached a trade paper and was hired, part-time as a staff writer.

Over the years, as a navigator in NYC hospitals, I’ve met thousands of women who were living their new beginnings. They gave themselves permission to live their dreams. Many returned to school or changed jobs. Others started businesses, while others were passing it forward by getting involved in volunteering with programs and services that help women with breast cancer. A few women had developed products, such as makeup and lotions for women in treatment that turned into major product lines.

Not every woman I spoke to reinvented herself but most had. The ones who had given themselves permission to do something they wanted to do shared that doing so gave them a sense of control over their lives.

Where ever you are in your survivorship know that it is never too late to reinvent yourself!

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