Some cancer treatments can be a gruelling experience, leaving patients physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. While coming to the end of treatment is a significant milestone in a cancer patient's journey, not everything can snap back to "normal" once treatment ends. For many cancer survivors, the emotional and physical tolls of cancer and its treatments mean they need ongoing support, care, and assistance with daily living for a long afterwards.
In today's article, Anna Crollman explores how necessary ongoing support was for her after breast cancer treatment.
Being on the outside as a loved one goes through cancer treatment can be extremely difficult. Perhaps even more so once cancer treatment is over.
The guidelines for how to provide support during active treatment are relatively clear. What about when treatment ends?
Many people think the end of treatment is the finish line. However, I found that it was the beginning of depression, anxiety, and emotional and physical distress.
The collateral damage of the diagnosis continues. At the same time, messages and support begin to die off, often leaving the patient feeling alone and forgotten.
Cancer treatment isn’t the end
My husband was my rock during breast cancer treatment. He is a doer and always prepared. He came to every appointment, took notes, managed my meds, and nursed me back to health.
A cloud of fear descended on me as I neared the end of cancer treatment. I was used to regular appointments, checkpoints, and monitoring. Ultimately, the fear of the unknown paralysed me.
I felt very isolated and alone in my fear and sadness, but my friends and family assumed I was okay. They expected life to go back to "normal.”
But everything had changed. Cancer didn’t just disappear overnight. It loomed above me, threatening to return at any time.
Shouldn’t I just be glad I was alive and had finished treatment? I wanted this to be true. But the depression worsened. It was fueled by my fear, guilt, and sadness.
My husband had been actively involved in every step of my treatment up to that point. He saw me begin to withdraw and wasn’t sure how to help.
I struggled to connect with the people around me. The fear of recurrence consumed my every waking thought, and so did the worries about building a life after cancer.
Asking for help
This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced depression. In fact, that helped me to recognise my downward spiral. I realised it was time to ask for help.
The very first step was sharing my true feelings with my husband. It was scary to let someone in and admit how the fear had consumed me, yet sharing also freed me.
I no longer felt alone in with my feelings of sadness and helplessness.
Seeing a therapist
My husband and I decided that I needed professional help. The depression had begun to impact my ability to complete daily tasks, and I was not sleeping.
Seeing a therapist was the first step in my mental recovery.
Re-connecting with my husband
It was now time to work on my relationship with my husband. I owed it to him, and I made it my job to help him find new ways to be supportive.
We decided to approach support from a new mindset. I didn't need my husband to take the same practical actions he did during treatment.
What I needed now was emotional support. We had to relearn how to navigate life after my treatment, communicate with one another, and see how we could continue to meet each other’s needs.
This idea meant I needed to reflect on what actions could provide me with the emotional support I required. It took me a while.
I eventually brainstormed a list of things I believed would make me feel emotionally supported. Some of the things that helped me were:
- Asking “How is your heart feeling today?” so I could talk about what was on my mind
- Giving me hugs and kisses
- Snuggling with me on the couch without “doing” anything
- Making dinner for me
- Holding me while I cried
- Asking me about my day
- Offering to listen instead of "solve"
Making changes in our lives
The shift in our relationship and our support dynamic didn’t change overnight. It took practice and honest feedback.
As a result, we both learned how to better express our needs and communicate our emotional state.
Support took on many forms in the years following my diagnosis. It included actions, touch, and even the written word. The key to our success and my healing was ongoing open communication!