Time for tears

Something is missing. There is a cancer shaped hole in my life.

Don’t get me wrong, of course I’m incredibly relieved that it’s all over. It’s just that the past six months have been all about the illness. There was a routine to my life, structured with appointments, chemo and hospital stays. Perhaps most importantly I had a clear goal – to beat cancer.

After such a terrifying diagnosis, there was something I could do to try to make it go away, something that gave me back a feeling of control. I was a mean cancer fighting machine. The process gave me a sense of purpose. It dominated my every waking moment.

Then, one day, it was all over. The treatment stopped. I got the official all clear, the perfect ten.

I know I’m extremely lucky to be cancer free. All I have to worry about these days is recovering from the ordeal and getting on with my life. But it’s not all over, not really.

First all, I’m still ridiculously shattered. Or to be more correct, I have fatigue. No amount of rest or sleep makes any difference. Even my bones feel exhausted. Yet I’m attempting to get my normality back and that’s only making me even more tired.

Slowly the chemo fog is lifting. My brain has all sorts of ideas of what I could do but my body usually says no, plump up the cushions and sit back down. I still have some medical appointments but I’m not nearly as busy being at hospital as I was.

It all means I have much more time to think and reflect on my illness.

When you’re told you have cancer it’s a shock but it’s also an emergency. Very quickly you focus on the treatment. It’s a brilliant way of channelling all that anger, upset and fear.

Now the chemo has finished, it seems like my emotions are catching up with me. The enormity of what I’ve been through is starting to hit home. I wasn’t expecting this big, delayed reaction as it didn’t happen to me before. But then it was much more serious this time.

My feelings that were squashed for so long have bubbled up and are now never far from the surface. I’ve cried more in the past couple of weeks than I have done in many months. One moment I’ll be thinking about the surgery or something awful connected with the cancer and then all of a sudden it’s hard to hold back the tears. Often though it’s stupid things that make me cry.

It’s not that I sit around weeping all day. Most of the time I’m actually quite happy. Just like the sickness, the extreme tiredness, the pain, the scars and the hair loss, I’m realising that the tears are another awful but normal side effect.

Anyway, afterwards I feel much better and I suppose that’s the whole point.

22 thoughts on “Time for tears

  1. It was your worst enemy and now it’s gone. You have to mourn its loss. Cry as much as you like, let it go. Take care. I’m back in the UK and back to my yoga. I’m still hoping to drag you along!

    • Hahaha you’re right I killed my enemy now I don’t have the bad guy to focus on! Yes I will come along to your yoga…just not yet :) xxx

      • No, not yet. I had my second class today after a year away – I was looking for a stretcher to carry me out of the studio! Hope to see you soon. xxx

  2. Hello Helen, What you are feeling is very normal, so much has happened to you and so intensively that it almost feels like a let down now, so many people feel like you do, it is a gradual process, getting back to normal, if you have a nurse specialist who has been with you throughout your journey through the cancer then now is the time to talk to her, this is what she is good at, don’t feel as if you’re wasting her time, you’re not, it’s what she’s there for, use her! This will pass but sometimes we need to hold a hand as we go through it. Keep smiling Helen Love Clare Sent from my iPad 2

    • That’s such a lovely way of putting it especially the bit about needing a hand to hold through this difficult time. I have some great nurse specialists and I’m talking to them. You’re right they are so good at helping. X

    • That was a lovely reply Clare,I’m going through a funny stage now when I could easily cry, I don’t feel confident in myself, I feel insecure, I feel scared. I’m on my five year plan and clear since august but can’t jump up and down with happiness because I daren’t…..your message helped me too ( a bit! ). Good luck Helen I wish you good health, I’m going to go and try to find a hand to hold and a hug x

      • Hey Caroline, thanks I’m glad it helped! Congratulations on getting the all clear. I know what you mean, right now I don’t really feel like jumping up and down to celebrate even though it’s such a big achievement. x

  3. I guess you are exhausted physically and emotionally. You are at your most vulnerable just when you think you have turned the corner and start to look forward. So much to catch up on, your mind is ahead of how you are physically. Small steps at the moment should ensure that you feel progress and allow you to get on with the list of things that you no doubt have. You have had an incredible year, and your body has been a battleground. It will take some time to recover, but I feel confident that you will be able to as energetic as you have been. Don’t forget all those people who have been a great help, they are still there willing and wanting to help you….. but your needs are different now. The emergency is over. The three weekly chemo routine has gone, the horrendous pain and sickness have eased, but as you have identified there is a void….. the void between being still ill and getting back to being well. Its the long recuperation…… but all illnesses have this, you are not alone. Think of a 16 girl friend of mine who has had a terrible leg break, shattering her leg just below her knee. Surgery done to insert a plate, but still many months of hobbling about. You too need a long time to recuperate…. but I feel you must take it at the right pace…. balancing your desire to be well and the rate of recovery for your body. Enjoy each day…. xx

  4. It is hard to let go of those things in life that have had the biggest impact on us, be it good or bad – but the low you are feeling now is a great thing in itself, you have climbed that huge mountain and can now slide down the other side in such style! Bit of a bump at the bottom of it, but yay! You did it! The world now awaits what you will achieve and conquer next, how exciting to be able to tell yourself you have done it! You beat CANCER! TWICE! You are amazing, remember that in your darker moments of recovery. Whatever you want, go get. You can and you will x

    • I love that image of the mountain! When you put it like that it doesn’t seem quite so bad. Thanks for that :) Yes I must remember all those things when it gets tough. Oh yes I will! x

  5. Hi Helen

    I always read your blog but don’t normally comment….this time though I had to! You have absolutely hit the nail on the head!
    I have myeloma and last year had major chemo and a transplant…..it all went well and in October I was told I was in temporary remission….fantastic. And then I totally collapsed and found myself in exactly the same place that you are in now. Crying all the time and feeling like a fraud as things were looking so good. I felt that everyone thought I should have been over the moon but I was just totally confused and almost lost with the lack of treatment and the fact that I could no longer control what happened next!
    I showed my husband your post too…he just smiled as he knew how eloquently and spot on you had described that time.
    If it helps, a year on from that time, and I don’t cry much at all (apart from reading your post today! But that was partly because I found out a myeloma friend of mine died last week) – things have definitely moved on and I now don’t feel a void without (much) treatment.
    Good luck Helen and I hope that you get to that place quickly. You sound like you have loads of good friends though, so I am sure they will all help you through it.
    Keep as positive as you have been and you will be fine.

    • Hey Deb, wow thanks so much, I’m really glad you commented :) It makes me feel like I’m not the only one who’s going through this. It’s hard feeling like you should be doing cartwheels when you’d rather have a bit of a cry. I’m really glad that you’re through the worst. I’m happy to hear that it does get better! xxx

  6. I guess you might also be thinking, “What’s normal? – or at least, “Will I know normal when I get there?” I reckon, after any operation, there’s a new normal which, inevitably, is going to feel different to the old feeling. No matter how skilful the surgery, there are after-effects, pain, muscle weakness. And you’ve had toxic drugs on top.

    I can only imagine what the whole saga has done to you emotionally – I only know that the degree of powerlessness involved in any stressful situation has a huge multiplying effect. I see it as a sort of sliding scale between full control at one end, and total lack of control at the other. When you’re in full control, stress can even feel good; like when you’re on a developing or complicated story but you’re completely across it and enjoying exercising your skills. When you’ve got some control – or at least someone has, maybe in your case that was your consultant – then you can DO stuff, at the least you can be a model patient and follow the instructions of the people who really understand the disease, who study it and know its tricks. I guess you ally yourself with them. And it wasn’t for nothing that you personified your chemo drugs as James Bond; who wouldn’t want him fighting on their side? And, of course, when you have no control at all, that’s when you get scared and angry.

    So maybe, paradoxically, you feel your slider has moved a bit in the wrong direction, that in a way you’ve got less influence now, because some of these powerful allies have moved on. And here’s us, at least those of us who’ve never had to deal with anything so frightening and consequential, in our ‘healthy’ world, with our petty worries and concerns that must seem to you so utterly trivial! And yet, among other things, your work lies here, at which you excel, and which is anything but trivial. So all I can do is extend a sincere welcome back to the land where we fret about what to get Mum for Christmas, finding a decent plumber and swapping a shift next Friday. Maybe demobbed soldiers feel the same getting behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta after driving a tank in a war zone. But you have earned the right to have such low-rent worries; I hope, by the time they re-assert themselves, you feel effortlessly in control.

    • Thank John, that’s so eloquently put (as always!) I really like that image of the demobbed soldier getting behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta. I’m looking forward to taking more pleasure from getting annoyed with the small stuff!

  7. Gosh, you write so well and seem to find the right words! It’s tough isn’t it? I, like many others have also been through the surgery, chemo mill, I still have another nine months of treatment, but I feel emotionally fragile and still bewildered! But to the outside world my hair is growing, so hey, I must be ‘ over it all ‘ now. Hardly, we are struggling to adjust to life with the knowledge which has been bestowed upon us this year, we never in our wildest nightmares thought we would be here, doing this! But we are, and this last week I have come to realise that there are many, many people out there who would do anything to be in my position now, rather than be going through the hell that they are. It’s yet another hurdle, I don’t ‘miss’ chemo, but it was a huge part of my life this year that has shaped me, hopefully saved me, and put thoughts into my head which I HAVE to deal with, slowly…..in my own time.

    Be strong Helen, as you know you can – it’s a long, long road, but your on it :)

    • Thank you so much :) Yes you’re so right that there are so many of us going through something that we never imagined would happen. This has been a very different year to the one I had planned.
      Yes it’s hard, so hard. And at the same time, yes I too realise that I’m one of the lucky ones.
      Since writing this post at the weekend I’ve felt stronger. I’m sure that all the lovely comments have helped plus knowing that I’m not the only one makes me feel like this is just part of the recovery process and it’s something that can’t be rushed.
      Good luck with the next nine months. Be kind to yourself. We’re going get through this! x

  8. Helen,
    With your advanced writing skills you may wish to consider writing some articles for publication. Maybe a book? Many editors would love to receive work written by you.
    This way you could stay at home to recover and still maintain that ‘battle spirit’ in writing.
    Everyone knows you have that special gift of ‘telling it like it really is.’. You can do it.

    • Hey thanks so much! Yes I’d love to do more writing after the experience and positive feedback from this blog. Hopefully I will get my book published!

  9. I celebrated my last chemo with a chocolate and peanut butter ice cream cake. Many of my family were with me, and we cut into that cake because the worst was over . . . oh my god I could have just cried all over the table. What was meant to be a glorious moment felt more like mourning then celebratory . . . and it took me a while to figure out what that was all about. I think emotional recovery isn’t discussed often enough in the hospitals – I reckon it should be part of the treatment plan for after the chemo and the radiation. But it sounds like you are doing well despite the tears. Maybe tears are necessary sometimes? After all, you’ve had a change – a huge change, and a trauma . . .

    Keep the ideas written down, and when you’re able you’ll get to them. In the meanwhile, a cup of tea and a little emotional release is a very healthy thing, I reckon. Better out than in!


    P.S. (Sorry for this huge comment, but I feel really strongly that emotions are part of getting better, and that life after cancer is just as much a challenge as life during cancer. That’s a big part of what the site I write for is all about.)

    • Catherine, thanks so much for your very frank comment. You’re right there isn’t enough discussion about the emotional side of cancer. Yes I think the tears are totally necessary and really do help with the recovery process. Much better out than in.

      Oh and by the way, that celebratory chocolate and peanut butter ice cream cake sounds amazing. I hope that you had it again when you were able to celebrate properly.

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