After finishing up cancer treatments, some survivors feel happiness one minute and low self-esteem and confusion in another. These conflicting feelings lead to questions which can lead to even more questions…
Many wonder “what is next”? What am I left with now? What do I do to prevent recurrence?
As unique as you are, so is your “what is next”? Your personal healing journey is your own to discover. You can have the same diagnosis, and the same surgical and chemical treatments as someone else, but experience very different emotions and worries. Although most understand this, comparison and worry is inevitable.
Frequent questions arise: “How come I am not doing as well as that person?” or “Why am I not moving on easily”? (You may even ask “just tell me what to do”.)
These questions can lead you to believe you are doing something wrong. You are not. Questioning everything after cancer is a “normal phase”. Reassure yourself that you are not alone feeling confused. Life after cancer is not a quick sprint back to our former lives. Sometimes a former life may not be the healthiest one to return to. Perhaps the former work-life balance was not in balance at all. Maybe a review of stress management is needed and setting better boundaries to say “no” more often.
A good answer about what to do next is to handle you with care.
Good health does not come from medicine alone. Recovery from illness requires more than time. Recovery needs space to carve out and prioritize self-care. Do a self-care check-in and assess where you are:
- Are your expectations after cancer realistic?
- Do you have both small and larger goals for your body, mind and spirit?
- Have you considered what you can and cannot control in life?
- Have you found tools to keep you moving forward feeling hopeful?
Tools are the ways you choose to nurture and restore yourself. They can be thought of as “the medicine that does not come in a bottle”. Yoga, journaling, spending time with animals, participating in conversations with other survivors, being in nature, listening or playing music are restorative choices.
Self-care also requires the practice of self-compassion. People who cultivate self-compassion generally have better physical and mental health, are happier, more motivated, and experience less anxiety and depression. Research has exploded around self-compassion and how it relates to health.
Dr. Kristin Neff, Ph.D. is as a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research and widely-admired as the world’s leading expert. As an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas, Austin she has over a decade of research studying self-compassion.
Her research led her to define self-compassion as needing three areas:
- recognizing our common humanity
She points out that we need to be gentler on ourselves especially when we are suffering. Although this sounds easy enough, it’s not that easy. Many confuse self-compassion for good self-esteem. They are not equal.
Take a small step today and pay attention to how you talk to yourself. How kind and gentle are you to yourself? Some of us are better at showing outward compassion than inward.
Handle you with care after cancer and practice self-compassion. Move away from your cancer experience toward feeling more grounded in life and hopeful and happier.
A final question: what cancer survivor would not want this?