Why is getting over cancer harder than getting through it ?

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I have just had the best news i could expect after nearly a year of what can be best described as a most testing and challenging time. by pure luck i had a cancer picked up that i knew nothing about and after extensive radiotherapy is now undetectable.

I should be celebrating but no i am plagued with sadness for so many reasons. Physically i am fine the treatment itself was not  in itself physically challenging but what i grossly under-estimated was the psychological side and all the stuff it would bring up.

For very complex reasons my wife and i never had a family. it was the right decision for us at that time and i would take the same one again in the same circumstances . (in truth i always wanted to have two girls). However fast forward to what has just happened and because of the cancer and witnessing a terrible accident i so regret the outcome of it today. I know i could never have predicted what would happen many years later but the reality has hit home with vengeance.

For the record i am now 61 still happily married to the same great woman, clearly the door is now closed on the main issue, but this past year and this now is testing both of us to the limit and stopping us celebrating what is a second chance. I am so angry and bitter at how having had cancer had changed me and brought back something i really thought i had put the lid on many years ago.

  • Hi  and welcome to this corner of the Community.

    I am Mike and I help out around the Community. For context, I am now 68 but was first diagnosed way back in 1999 at 42 with a very rare, hard to treat incurable blood cancer (Non Hodgkins Lymphoma) and had to have about 16 years of treatment to eventually arrive at a point that my cancer was under control and asleep with my last treatment being Oct 2015…… so in my book I am living the dream.

    First congratulations in getting through your treatment and on the result you have achieved…….. but as you see - living the post treatment life throws up lots of curved balls.

    Regrets can indeed start to show their face, past choices and decisions can be magnified and then can fester away…… but the most important thing is you are alive and its sounds like your treatment did it’s job……. 

    You are now at the point in your journey where you have to make a simple choice - you let your cancer journey and the stuff that it’s throws at you define you……. or you choose to define your way forward..

    Moving forward often puts us into the position of having to deal with stuff…… and once dealt with (again) to move on.

    I had ‘issues’ after my treatment. I often talk about the concept that when we first get our cancer diagnosis we all get an invisible ruck-sack put on our backs.

    We then walk through our journey including our treatments, clinics, blood tests, scans, side effects……. and unknowingly, we continually throw stuff into the ruck-sack…… and the stuff builds up. It’s only when we finished our treatment (rang the bell) and look to try and ‘live’ life we realise that it’s not that straight forward.

    This is due to the weight of the ‘stuff’ we have collected in the ruck-sack pulling us down…. stuff like pent-up anxiety and stress, the ‘what if’s’, the difficulty in seeing a way forward with life, the disappointments around how some of our family and friends supported us, the silly things people said during and after treatment….. past regrets……. the list goes on.

    There comes a time when we hit ‘the wall’ and this is the point when this ruck-sack needs to be taken off out backs and over time cleaned out. It’s not an instant fix but a process…. but the healing process can only start when we are willing to do it and to achieve this we often need help so these are some links that you may want to follow up and see where you can find this help.

    One big thing I did have to deal with was survivors guilt as I lost some very good friends to different cancers over my years and "why did I survive and they did not".......... but I got some great help through our local Maggie's Centre especially their Where Now? Course and One on One support.

    Talking to people face to face can be very helpful so do check to see if you have any Local Macmillan Support in your area

    As for navigating the post cancer world you may find it helpful to make a cuppa and have a look at this great paper After Treatment Finishes - Then What? by Dr Peter Harvey as it highlights the post treatment milestones.

    We are always around to chat.

    Mike (Thehighlander)

    It always seems impossible until its done - Nelson Mandela

    Community Champion Badge

  • Hi Mike, i am most grateful for your response. This has most definitely caught me by surprise and i never expected it to be this way. In truth i knew back when i did the last treatment something was not right as when i rang the bell i faked the happiness i showed at the time. Whilst the result i had was beyond our wildest expectations the one down side is i have to stay on Hormone treatment as a belt and braces exercise until at least 2025. The side effects i have from this is i think causing some of my emotions to be heightened above and beyond what they all ready are. The realisation of what has just happened is as big a blow as the original day you are told you have cancer. The not having children  was in my mind tucked away in its box and i had a handle on it. This experience has blown that lid clean off.

    I have already looked at some steps forward and just finished some sessions with a counsellor  i could have done with some more as it was just getting down to nitty gritty but gave me enough to see a lot of the aspects raised. Her take on things were is we were dealing with grief and loss and that took some time for me to accept. I now need to put the pieces of the jigsaw together. I am already in with my local Mcmillan support group and i like to help others who are just starting on their journey. I realise the what iffs are a bit pointless as i cannot go back and change the past but i can change tomorrow. Its just right now its all just got so overwhelming. Its so unfair on my wife who has supported me so well over the most challenging  of times and i have to think of her feelings as well when i talk about all the parts of this situation.

    I have always thought that i would come out of this a better person because of it but that seems a tough ask at this time. I do think meeting this head-on is the best way but also the toughest and the doubts are already setting in.

    Once again thanks for the response...

  • If there was only a go-to Q&A book we could look though to help navigate this unwanted part of the journey…… but I guess that the length of War and Peace would just be the size of the index.

    Always around to chat.

    Mike (Thehighlander)

    It always seems impossible until its done - Nelson Mandela

    Community Champion Badge

  • Hi Gavref2

    So glad that you have successfully finished your treatment that is great but the path forward can sometimes be hard.

    I have an extensive history of jaw cancer that started in 2013 and have been through the whole range of ups and downs involved. One of the things that happened to me also was that I re-evaluated my life and the choices I made. There were many that I was happy with and some that I was not so happy with that made me feel quite sad and wished that I could have changed. Of course in reality we know that we can't change the past but that does not change the feeling of sadness or disappointment.

    It takes time but I have managed to put a lid back on those disappointments and move forward. I have found that becoming involved in meaningful activities helps enormously. Contributing in a positive way makes such a difference. For me I have found volunteering at my local library and getting involved with some of their programmes has made an enormous difference. You have to find what works for you.

    After retirement I think many of us go through a transition when we grieve the loss of our place in society and need to carve out a new path that works for us that continues to make our life meaningful. It is the same with the cancer journey. We re-evaluate our life choices and need to carve out a way forward too.

    You have good insight and I am sure that given time you will work your way forward.

    It is great that you have such a strong marriage.

    Sending you positive thoughts