Will I Ever Feel Better?
We’ve all heard that expression, right? Probably the first time was from your mom, right after your seventh-grade boyfriend broke up with you, deciding basketball and his friends held more allure than a walk and talk in the park with a girl. You didn’t believe you’d ever get over that soul-searing hurt and rejection, did you?
But mom told you: time heals.
And, imagine that – she was right. It did. There were other boys, girlfriends, maybe eventually a family of your own. You moved on. And that middle-school pain, while it remains in your mind, has long ago faded to a very minor scar on your heart, the kind all of us get growing up.
Time heals. Remember that, when you’re going through cancer treatment. Despite all the efforts by the health-care community to make your journey as painless as possible, there’s bound to be damage, both short- and long-term. If the treatment is successful, it’ll kill the cancer. But it does a lot of collateral damage along the way, and only time can heal the beating your body takes from the slash, poison and burn of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
The effects of surgery are obvious: it takes awhile for the lumpectomy cut to turn to scar tissue, longer for the lengthier mastectomy cut-and-stitch, longer still for reconstruction, where you’re dealing with multiple incisions and stitching, both inside and out.
Chemotherapy is hard on all of you. Everything from your heart and liver to your mucous membranes, hair follicles, and gastrointestinal system protests the presence of those deadly drugs in your body. Once chemo is over, it can take months for the side effects to fade: for your hair to grow back, your taste buds to recover, your mouth sores to disappear.
Radiation can burn your skin, and make you tired. You may feel like you have the flu for weeks on end, both as you go through it, and after you’re done. Time heals… eventually. Scars fade, your “radiation sunburn” goes away, your hair grows back, the awful fatigue is replaced by a more normal energy level.
The hardest part about all this is that we’re used to seeking instant gratification, and the healing process is often excruciatingly slow. It doesn’t take long for nagging thoughts to replace the relief at having finished treatment. “I’m glad I’m done, but WHEN am I going to feel better?”
A friend of mine with DCIS underwent a lumpectomy and radiation. She expected to be done with it and move on with her life. Yet a year later, she still wasn’t feeling up to snuff. It was a full 2 years after treatment that she realized she finally felt like herself again.
Time heals… slowly.
So if you’ve been through treatment, and still aren’t “back to normal” – 2 months later, 2 years later, 5 years later – reconsider your definition of normal. You’ll probably never be the same person you were before treatment. Time heals… and it brings you to a new place. Accept it.
The stiff shoulder, burning eyes, tingling chest, or sore feet are battle scars, permanent reminders of the war you’ve waged. Those scars will fade, but just like the emotional scars on your heart, they’re permanent: a testament to life. YOUR life.