Life after a cancer diagnosis is never the same. However, it can be better, harder, more meaningful, stressful and, well, different. But if you’re sitting on the other side of the fence, meaning that you are a caregiver, husband, wife, child or friend, there are some things that you need to know.
1. We are not our former selves
Each cancer survivor will find their “new normal” at some point. That means that once we’ve grappled with our diagnosis, have a better understanding of our treatment, and have settled into the drugs and therapies that we must, we then begin crafting our new lives. Emotionally, we are different. We are more fragile. Life takes on a different meaning. We have new priorities, loads of medical appointments, and medications that come with side effects. Many of us go back to our former jobs; others stay out on permanent disability. Our food tastes may differ, we often require more sleep, and our energy level is rarely ever the same again. If you feel like a different person has emerged after cancer, you’re right. Most of the time, we are better for it, oftentimes, however, we go through stages of fear, depression, relief, gratefulness and anger.
2. Sometimes we feel sick, cranky, tired, afraid, or fatigued
We may have once had loads of energy and now we don’t. Oftentimes we catch every virus out there. And sometimes, our medications leave us amped up and easy to annoy. Some of us may experience crying fits and depression. Fear is common. And almost universally, we simply get tired more often. If we don’t feel like going to the amusement park or the zoo, unpacking boxes from a move, and laundry stays in the dryer too long, it’s because we are not functioning at our former capacity.
3. We have real side effects
Many cancer survivors hate telling others all our woes. We get tired of complaining, too, but we probably should indulge in pity parties more often. All those medications we take have real side effects– fatigue, neuropathy, pain, breathlessness– and that’s just for starters. We power forward, typically, so sometimes others might forget we’re sick. Often we look really healthy. But few of us really feel like a normal healthy person.
4. We need others to cut us some slack
If we seem tired, cranky, lazy or forgetful, be kind and patient. We need help more than we need criticism. That said, if we seem to be wallowing in grief or depression, maybe you should ask us to get professional help. If we refuse, try even harder. Talk to us. If we need to sleep, let us. If we are too sedentary, encourage us to get up and move, and to get out of the house. Reminders are good. You see things from a different perspective than we do.
5. We need understanding
If we sometimes don’t apologize for our behavior or live up to your expectations, be understanding. We know being the loved one of someone who is ill isn’t easy. We try to be understanding of those around us. We often fail.
6. We need (or ought) to eat differently
Cancer survivors need to eat healthy foods that will give us the best ability possible to fight our disease. Depending on where we are with treatment, we may have severe dietary restrictions. Support us in our quest to make the best food choices possible. Eat healthy with us. Pick good restaurants. Cook healthy foods.
7. We can sometimes be really forgetful
Chemo brain is real. If we forget what we said the day prior, and we can’t remember anyone’s names, or even show up for appointments on the wrong day, be understanding. Help us laugh it off. There’s not a whole lot we can do about it anyway.
8. We love help , even if we don’t like asking for it
If you want to help us, consider taking our children for the day so we can have a break, or bring a healthy dinner over (ask about food restrictions first), or offer to clean our house or mow the lawn, or drive us to a doctor’s appointment. Many cancer survivors have a hard time asking for help but we need it.
9. When we are spending too many days indoors, get us out. Help us live
Sometimes it’s easy to become isolated and sedentary, finding refuge in our homes. If this sounds like someone you know, do your best to get them out, do something fun, and find joy and meaning.
10. If you think we need professional help, call us out on it. Get us help
If you find anything alarming, please talk to us about it. It’s ok to call our doctors, too.