Ending Breast Cancer Treatment: Taking care of Yourself

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • The surprising thing about cancer treatment is, once you’ve finished it, there’s a part of you that doesn’t want it to end. I felt this way myself; and I’ve spoken to enough other women who were shocked at their negative reaction to the end of treatment to know that it’s quite common. I call it the “Who’s taking care of me now?” syndrome.

    Think about it. At the moment you first entered your local health care center to find out about that questionable lump–or maybe just for your regular yearly mammogram–you became part of the system. You moved through treatment, from mammography to ultrasound, perhaps, or right to radiology for a biopsy. Then you met with surgeons, an oncologist, a radiologist. You had a mastectomy or lumpectomy, or multiple lumpectomies, maybe reconstruction; you had chemo (or not). You may have had physical therapy. And all along the way, you met and developed relationships with people who were focused on YOU, on your issues, your challenges, your health. From the sympathetic receptionist at the chemo desk, to your oncologist’s nurse practitioner, to the radiation techs who kindly played your choice of CDs for you every day, you were surrounded with competent, caring professionals–often for months and months at a time. While cancer was no doubt a scary diagnosis, it was made less so by these people who took charge and confidently led you through treatment. It was great to be under the wing of these smart, educated, experienced professionals; it was wonderful to feel cared for, and cared about.
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    But suddenly those 35 days or radiation come to an end. You walk out of the infusion suite for the final time, and joke with the chemo nurse that you hope you never see her again, unless it’s at the supermarket. Your oncologist tells you everything’s clear, come back in six months. And instead of being overjoyed, you’re filled with fear: These people were fighting my cancer. What if it’s not gone? Who’s going to watch out for me now? I can’t do this on my own. HELP!

    You put on a happy face for your family. After all, who would ever admit that the end of that long trudge through treatment could be anything other than joyful? But it’s not joy you feel; it’s uneasiness, and fear. You feel like you used to feel when Mommy went out and left you with a babysitter: scared, and alone. And embarrassed and guilty, for feeling that way.

    Well, as I said, you’re not alone. It’s natural to form a bond with your health care professionals, and just as natural to miss them when they disappear from your life. But stick this in the back of your mind: even though you’re not seeing them regularly, you’re still under their care. They’ve no doubt mapped out a plan for your further treatment; it’s just that rather than weekly appointments, the treatment is “Let’s see you every six months and make sure everything’s OK.” Like guardian angels, they’re still there, even when you don’t see them.

    So don’t beat yourself up if you’re scared or sad to see treatment end. It’s not unusual to miss an established, safe routine, even when that routine involved fatigue, sickness, and fear. Accept what you feel, and recognize it for what it is: a natural reaction, one that many women have, and one that, with time, you’ll get past.

  • In the meantime, here are a couple of books I found very helpful in the months right after treatment; surprisingly, they share nearly the same name. Check out “After Breast Cancer, Answers to the Questions You’re Afraid to Ask,” by Musa Mayer; and “After Breast Cancer, A Common-Sense Guide to Life After Treatment,” by Hester Hill Schnipper. I recommend them both highly.
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Published On: August 22, 2006