Amy Luscher Smith • March 10, 2019
When I received the feedback on my book, My Faith Sparkles: Memoir of a Cancer Survivor, three editorial readers marked up the last chapter. Their notes read something like this: You seem underwhelmed by the fact that you just completed your last chemo. Where is the celebration?
Oh, don’t get me wrong, we had a party. I had a t-shirt made. There were noisemakers and streamers, glittery crowns and wands. There waslaughter and whooping in the restaurant that included people who didn’t know me. It was a great party.
Then, I went home. My oncologist blessed me. “You’re in remission. Live your life,” he said.
Are you a survivor who has asked yourself, now what? I had this painful, tragic, but also joy-filled, loved-one-supported, life-changing thing happen to me. It took me from my old world and dropped me, Dorothy and Toto-like, into a new one, but without the benefit of a well-paved yellow brick road. So, now what?
For me, it took a year to regain my full health through well-planned exercise and physical therapy. It took that long to get rid of lingering side effects, like numbness in my hands and feet and full-fledged chemo-brain. At the end of that year, I asked myself again. So, now what?
Do any of these sound like you?
- I live in fear the cancer will come back.
- I’m fine. I’d like cancer just to have been a phase of my life, but it is something I will have to pull out and deal with later.
- I am having trouble feeling the same energy as before with my career.
- I am just putting one foot in front of the other every day. How long will this last?
- I fought like a warrior for years. Suddenly, I have nothing to fight and I feel lost.
- I have so much more patience and love to share with others. Little things don’t bother me now.
My lovely survivor friends, every single one of these feelings and anything else you are feeling is perfectly normal. I want to validate whatever you feel. There is no right way to do remission and survivorship.
Here are some things that may help if you, too, are asking, “What Now?”:
Find online or in-person support
Survivors need support, too. Once in remission, we learn to traverse new pathways with old, familiar places and relationships. How do I interact with my family? Work? Church? My volunteer community? We may need new boundaries, but we can be faced with people thinking that everything is now fine. Find your support. Community cancer support groups can help support survivors. In attending and supporting the newly diagnosed, I have found a purpose and a place to direct my energy. Online communities can help, as well. Whatnext.com is an online community offered in partnership with the American Cancer Society. Consider joining a community that helps you find your “what next?”.
Spend time considering your new normal
I wanted to box up my feelings about my cancer after I was in remission. Out of sight, out of mind. Let’s move on to the next phase of life. Looking back, I’m certain that wasn’t the most healthy way for me to move into a new normal that included drastic changes in my body, my mind, and my spirit.
- Try setting aside time to journal about your cancer and remission.
- Spend ten minutes a day to engage with yourself and try to process where you are going next.
- Ask yourself, “How am I feeling physically, mentally, spiritually?
- Find someone to talk with who is a good listener—a family member, a friend, a pastor, a counselor–and talk about how you feel in this moment and what the past means to you.
Draw healthy boundaries
Cancer survivors may look and act fine. Sometimes we are. But, as survivors, we need to be in control of the boundaries we place around our time, our health, our support to others. I found that I had lots of energy to redirect. For almost three years during treatment, I was in an amped-up fight mode. Where was I supposed to direct all that energy once the cancer was gone? Give yourself the gift of time to decide how to use your energy. Make healthy choices about where you give it.
Draw boundaries around your health, as well. You may look and act fine. You may feel fine. Listen to your body, and make decisions accordingly. Prior to my diagnosis, I rarely took a sick day from work. I muscled through headaches, colds, aches and pains. Now, I have a new respect for what my body is telling me, and I try hard to set healthy boundaries around how I need to heal.
What does your new normal look like?
In what ways has your life changed since being diagnosed with cancer?
What one healthy step can you take to decide what’s next in remission?