Being a cancer survivor is often tricky for young adults….you’ve just finished treatments/surgeries/radiation and now…you’re done! Your friends and family rejoice and then they all load into the car and go home…metaphorically speaking of course.
WhatNext recently published an article talking about 5 things to know about survivorship but we decided that this needed to be taken to the next level and catered to the young adult audience in particular. So here goes nothing!
5 Steps to Being A Cancer Survivor As Young Adult
- 1. Know that your friends and family will quickly disperse. Unless they have been through their own cancer journey or are particularly in-tune to emotional life stages, your friends and family will think that you being “in the clear” means that you are “all better.” Now, this may be the case. You might leap off the exam table of your last appointment following treatments with your oncologist and never look back. In my experience, and in many of those I have talked with, this is not the case. Following treatments your body is still adjusting, your mind is still recuperating, and it may take some time to readjust to life back in the “real” world. Remember when you were going through treatments and if you needed something, you had to ask for it? Same rules apply into your survivorship. If you need something, just ask for it. Your friends and family will reappear in no time.
- 2. Understand that you have new limits. When my cancer treatments ended I wanted to go right back to dancing salsa in the late evenings. I would plan on going on a Wednesday night, end up feeling tired and staying at home, and then be mad at myself because I couldn’t seem to get back into something that I had loved so much before my journey with cancer began. It took a while to admit to myself that my body had new limits. If one day had been particularly tiring, I needed to take a day off as a breather or I would become sick. I absolutely needed to get a full nights sleep or risk having flu-like symptoms. My body was sending me clear signals that things needed to stay at a slower pace for a while! Moral of the story: Listen to your body and respect that things are a little different than they were before…and that this is ok! Give yourself time and space.
- 3. Going back to work may be complicated. Getting back into your previous groove at work following your cancer treatments may be difficult for a number of reasons. Like point #1, your co-workers/boss may not understand that despite you being healthy again, your body and mind are probably not back to 100% where they were before. There is so much still to process and some of that processing will take some of your brain power for a while. You may require a more substantial or well defined work/life balance now (I know that I did…). You may not enjoy hanging around the previously oh-so-funny/charming co-worker who now just gets under your skin. You may hate certain tasks that you didn’t mind before or love your job in a totally new way. In any case, be patient with yourself (and your co-workers) and just do your best.
- 4. A lot has just happened! You have just been through a lot! If you step back and think about the potential death experience that cancer is, it is pretty evident that going through treatments is a big deal. Your immune system has literally been compromised in order to kill certain cells within your body that are trying to kill you! While doting on the what ifs is arguably not overly productive, please do not underestimate the battle that your body has just undergone. It makes perfect sense that after fighting for your life, upon stepping back you may only now fully realize the power of your experience. Your perspectives on life, friendship, love, work, etc. may all be different now. Know that you are allowed to take space and time to process whatever emotions come up into your survivor just as you did during your diagnosis and treatments.
- 5. Reach out to someone if you are having trouble readjusting to life. It is hard to expect your body and mind to be completely recovered just because those lousy cancer cells are gone. If you are having trouble coping with return to “normal life” consider talking with someone. Sometimes an extra ear can be really helpful in sorting through life’s new anxieties, stresses, and worries.
Any things that you would add to the list? What did you find helpful in adjusting to being a cancer survivor as a young adult?