Mixed emotions after finishing breast cancer treatment

I did it, I’m done, I’m through, I’m finished! I’ve not posted here for a while because I really wanted to write something positive and upbeat about finally reaching the end of my treatment (well, kind of). I know loved ones would like to hear this and are eager to help celebrate my victory over cancer….but I just don’t feel like partying.

Quite surprisingly to me I actually feel the opposite to how I think I should right now. I thought I’d be overjoyed at this point, relieved that the treatment is over – hands punching in the air, lots of high fives and feeling fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased I’m still here and alive, obviously, but I really hadn’t anticipated feeling this way at all.

I’m having difficulty sleeping, my head is a whirlwind of worries hurtling round my mind and I wake up feeling stressed and anxious with my heart pounding. I feel pretty flat and waves of tears just appear out of nowhere. How can there possibly be any more bloody tears left in me? There are times when I can’t stop crying, uncontrollably, and in the most inappropriate places – it’s really quite embarrassing. My fabulously supportive friends are wanting to see me, which is so lovely, but I feel overwhelmed by it all and just want to hide away from the world. And then I feel guilty for feeling this way. My poor hubby probably wonders where his wife gone.

Oh I wish had more energy, more motivation and more life in me… I so desperately wish I could go back to being the old me. But of course I can’t. I will never be the same person I was before, I need to readjust and adapt to this ‘new normal’, this brave new world. I must be patient, my body (and my mind) needs time to heal. I’ve heard from others that it takes as long as the total duration of treatment to feel fully physically and emotionally well. There is a continual and constant fear playing in the back of my mind. I wonder whether the treatment was successful, I’m frightened by every ache and pain and I worry if the big C will reappear its ugly head again in the future. I’m sure at this point anxiety is at its highest for all cancer survivors and it will undoubtedly lessen over time.

As soon as you’ve finished treatment, I think there can be an expectation to just pick up and get back to ‘normal’. I’ve been told by nurses, health professionals and other people who have been through the same experience that the way I’m feeling is perfectly normal – and is actually more the typical behaviour displayed by someone rather than the jumping for joy feeling. I’ve been in contact with others who have transitioned through the end of their treatment phase and back into ‘normal’ life again. I’ve heard how people have struggled at this point and also felt similar emotions so at least I know I’m not alone and it is common to feel this way. After months of hospital visits, surgeries, nasty chemical infusions, being nuked and poked, prodded and punctured with needles my body and mind has taken a battering. It’s hardly surprising that, as much as I’d like to, I’m not quite ready to bounce back into life as it was before.

I guess you use all of your strength and courage keeping it together to get yourself through all of the treatment and then when the finish line appears you’re left thinking ‘what the feck just happened?’ You go from feeling relatively strong, positive and ‘brave’ to this person whose confidence is on the floor, who has difficulty keeping it together at times and has these debilitating melt downs. I was recently told that your brain purposely shuts down excess feelings until you’re ready to handle them which makes good sense.

These feelings are also being magnified by the start of my Zolodex injections. Women usually approach the menopause much more naturally with their oestrogen levels dropping off at a gradual and natural rate. Mine however have been pretty much been switched off overnight, chemically, and very unnaturally so I guess the feelings/side effects are more severe. I am told that this will level out over approximately 3 months as my body gets used to the Zolodex.

I am starting back at work at the beginning of February and am dreading having one of these melt downs in the office. My employers have been absolutely fantastic and my colleagues and friends at work so supportive, I know they will look after me when I return. I’m still petrified and worried if I’ll be able to keep up with everything. Fortunately I’m doing a gradual phased return which will help me back into working life gently. I’m also worried about seeing people in my wig who I haven’t seen since I was diagnosed. It feels like going out in my wig for the first time all over again.

My treatment isn’t technically finished as I’ll continue to have my 3-weekly Herceptin injections until November as well as my monthly Zolodex injections. As my cancer was oestrogen receptor positive I will also go onto long-term medication – either Tamoxifen (for up to 10 years) or Letrozole. I’ll continue to be in contact with my oncologist and healthcare professionals for a little longer which does provide a safety net of some sort.

I’ve been having some counselling sessions at the Haven to help me process everything and provide me with some coping strategies and I’ve also started a ‘Moving Forward’ course run by Breast Cancer Care.

I have also discovered Dr Peter Harvey, a psychologist who has specialised in supporting cancer patients and he has written an in-depth article (After the Treatment Finishes – Then What?) which accurately describes and completely makes sense of the way I’m feeling.

Just when you think you’ve come to the end of one road, it feels like another has started. I’m absolutely sure things will get better and that each day that passes life will get easier as I get stronger and my body and mind have time to recover. My apologies to my darling husband, friends and family if you’re wondering why I’m miserable or withdrawn – I promise I’ll be back soon!

Image by Power of Positivity (powerofpositivity.com).

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18 thoughts on “Mixed emotions after finishing breast cancer treatment

  1. Allie, heartfelt and honest as always. Sending you and yours the strength to transition through this weird stage towards something that resembles your new healthy (physical and emotional) normal.

    Love Rosemary
    Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh yep, yep, yep I hear you sister – totally felt the same. I’m coming up to a year after finishing treatment and I’m pleased to say it does get easier. I’m still not the me I was before, don’t think I’ll ever get back to those true carefree days, but thoughts of the big C do not dominate my general day to day. (Despite the fact that everyday we are confronted with cancer adverts, cancer news stories, someone else being diagnosed etc)
    Stay strong, you’ve got through the really grotty phase! x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So good to see you posting again, was thinking about you and wondering how the radiotherapy went and how you were doing.

    I’m half way through chemo and still have the radiotherapy to go so cannot imagine the place you are presently at.

    I guess the painful reality is that although you have completed three of the major, aggressive and perhaps more publicly known cancer treatments, you still are in the midst of at least two more-the zolodex and Herceptin, which although are less understood by the folk around us are still major treatments and therefore still massively impactful on our bodies, minds and souls.

    It seems to me we are in such a rush, as are those around us to reach a destination that we imagine we have arrived, when in fact we are still travelling.

    Don’t be hard on yourself, your journey, your transitioning is not yet done. You are still moving through the cycles and phases of treatment and recovery.

    I’m a big believer in the positivity of meeting your grief head on. You have lost so very much but I don’t believe for a moment that you have lost you, Allie.

    I have faith that the Allie you were before diagnosis, the Allie that carried you through the most devastating and crushing times is simply resting, quietly needing more love and nurture than ever before after doing such a brave and courageous job.

    The Allie that you are at the end of this-the true end, maybe next year, will be more beautiful and wonderful because of all you have been forced to face and learn about yourself, those around you and life in all of its amazingly painful and joyful shades.

    You are in my thoughts
    x

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    1. Thanks so much for reading and for your positive and supportive words. Yes it would be nice if it was all done and dusted with but that’s a way off yet. Hopefully the side effects will become more manageable. I’ve not even started Tamoxifen/Letrozole yet so that will interesting to add into the mix! It’s a little like climbing a mountain and thinking you’ve reached the summit, yet a gathering of clouds disperse and you see it carries on up a little further than you originally thought.
      I wish you well with the remainder of your chemo and radio. Take care xx

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  4. Hi Allie,

    Finishing cancer treatment is a milestone, and one you deserve to ‘celebrate’ in any way you feel like! Of course, it is rather unfortunate you feel this way – but as you state, it is the norm.

    Actually, we had attended an oncology nursing seminar a few months ago which showed the stress levels through the ‘journey’. The highest levels were observed immediately after diagnosis, and after treatment had concluded.

    You’re not alone, and if nothing else, you have outlets like this one – to vent, share, relate…

    We’ll be waiting for your next posts to read all about how you are doing! 🙂

    And, may we remind you your last sentence in the “About” page:
    Here’s to a nice big fat ice-cream at the end of it!

    😉

    Take care!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for reading my post – and for reminding me of my desire for a big fat ice cream at the end! ; ) I have quite a few nice trips planned for the coming year which is so nice to have things to look forward to. Actually living life and doing stuff rather than just being/existing is certainly a great feeling. I’m sure I’ll be posting a much more positive blog soon! Take care xx

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  5. Like many others, I shared your experience. Being “done” wasn’t really satisfying, like I had expected, and Zolodex made me absolutely nuts. When I went off of it to start a new treatment, (even though it was “harsher”), I was almost relieved. If I may be so bold to suggest advice to a stranger: Be kind to yourself, and make sure you don’t place timelines on your new normal. Feel what you feel when you feel it. Best of luck to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve been wondering how you are. I am sorry you’ve been feeling down. And yes, this is all normal. I felt scared when I stopped treatments because I felt ‘unprotected’, and like you, I also felt like I was just starting to realize what I had gone through. It usually doesn’t hit until you’re done with all of it. So many different types of fears. Like, I am almost 5 years out now and I have different fears from the ones I felt during treatments, and right after finishing. But please don’t feel discouraged. It’s OK to deal with all these emotions. You will feel better. More confident.

    Good luck with your other treatments. Let us know what hormone therapy you end up taking. I have not been approached about my ovaries by anyone but I now see it is becoming common to shut down the ‘production’ of estrogen. Good luck with that as well.

    Be kind and patient with yourself. This too shall pass. xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Rebecca, I had a tough period that started shortly after Christmas, but I do feel that I’ve recently turned a corner having gone back to work and started to do a few things socially so enjoying life a bit more normally. Will keep posted ref hormone treatment. I really hope you’re doing ok xx

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  7. Thank you for putting into words the thoughts and feelings going around my head. I finished my treatment early February, and am on Letrozole. I have also read Dr Peter Harvey’s After the Treatment Has Finished. I could identify with the painted on smile and comments of “oh you do look so well” which make me want to scream sometimes. I do want to compartmentalize that part of my life and forget about it but conversely I miss being cared for. Take care, onwards and upwards!

    Liked by 1 person

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