“Active treatment” finished, I should be celebrating…but just feel odd?

On Tuesday this week I had my twentieth radiotherapy session after 18 chemotherapy treatments, a lumpectomy and then 20 radiotherapy sessions I was done with “active cancer treatment”. My radiotherapy centre had a bell and I rang it. I was smiling and happy as I did but whilst I feel I should be jumping with joy about this momentous occasion I confess that what I’m really feeling is just, well odd!

Let’s start with catching up on radiotherapy, as with many I’m sure, I have suffered with skin issues.  I am red, sore and incredibly itchy.  This hot weather may be glorious but it is no fun for skin complaints, particularly when you add in the fun of my usual hot flushes which appear every so often! I find myself spending every waking minute reminding myself not to scratch, then worrying that I will when I sleep! I’ve not worn a bra in days, thank heavens I’m still working from home and can angle my screen so my colleagues can’t see! Trouble with only having one nipple now is I fear it’s more obvious some how, it certainly is when I’m cold!

However, once again I’m aware others have had it worse, and all in all I’ve faired quite well. The treatment itself is no hardship, I had to drive 25 mins to my centre everyday but after 5 months of feeling so dependable on others this was actually a nice to have some new found freedom back! I felt a little bit like me again. 

So that’s been my last 20 week days. Then on Tuesday I had my last one. Suddenly after 7 months of scans, consultants appointments and treatments I come to a bit of a stop. I will of course be having my three weekly Herceptin but that doesn’t feel like treatment in the same way. The end of radiotherapy was the end of the treatment plan first given to me by my consultant at that first diagnosis meeting. I’ve come to the end of that and I honestly don’t know how to feel. I am happy, of course I am, I have such good results so far. But at the same time I can’t pretend that this hasn’t changed me. My body is different now, even without the obvious (the missing nipple, and big scar under my armpit), my hair is thin and greyed, my nails are weak and discoloured, my weight is bloated from the drugs and let’s not forget the internal affects the chemo drugs have had on my body. My body is still healing, and whilst my treatment may have ended I need to remember that and give myself time to heal.

The other aspect I’m only really starting to understand is the mental affect of all of this. I was diagnosed and treated so quickly, thankfully. But it meant I didn’t have any time to really think about it. I just got told “you have cancer, you will have chemo then operation then radiotherapy” so I did. There was no time to think. I didn’t take on board what my odds were, what success rates for my type of cancer, what it meant for my boys, my husband, my family, my friends my work, etc. I think that all those thoughts are now starting to surface in the form of ‘what ifs’. Which is odd. I’m in a good place, I know I’ve responded well to treatment. But I feel odd now not having any, as if now I’m not fighting it as well as I could anymore. Until now I have been actively doing everything to stop the cancer and stop it coming back and now that has stopped.

I also feel that everyone is willing me to just be OK now. I’ve finished treatment so it’s all fine now. But I still see cancer with me, yes my biopsy results are good and I know that and I do celebrate it but when I look in the mirror I see the chemo rash on my arm, or the thin hair from chemo or the angry skin from radiotherapy. I still feel like this is still happening and it’s not over. I certainly don’t want to dwell, I want this to end, but I just don’t feel like I’m there yet. 

I know I’m not alone in this, it’s a common feeling once treatment ends. Anyone who has any tips on how to help get past this odd feeling do let me know.

As always, take care xx

  • I am not at all surprised that you're suffering a crash now it's 'all over'. You've suffered a huge psychological trauma as well as the physical traumas of the cancer and the treatment. And while you've been focused on the treatment path, and working full time, and being a mum, and wife, and daughter, and friend, oh yes - and doing all this in a global pandemic - you've barely had a moment to process any of it. You need to take time now to do that - maybe even find a counsellor or a therapist to help you. There are many physical therapies that are hugely successful at processing trauma if you don't feel like the sometimes lengthy 'talking' therapies - but perhaps a combination of both might be good.

  • At the very least - spend time being kind to yourself - maybe spend the time you were spending on treatment having naps, or massages, or yoga, or just sitting with a cup of tea and a biscuit. In a way, the real healing needs to start now! And as for your nipple situation - make a feature of it - give it a name 'Juan Nipple' - or start a competition to find the best fake substitute for the other side - I always figured jelly tots would be good, but in this warm weather I'd be anxious about attracting ants to the sugar!