I Survived Bladder Cancer Treatment - What's Next?
WELL DONE, YOU! You have made it, physically, through your treatment plan, whatever that may have been: chemotherapy, radiotherapy, BCG, surgery, or immunotherapy. Maybe you have been told that you are "cured," or perhaps you are now NED (no evidence of disease). So, that's it now, isn't it?
The psychological effects of bladder cancer
One of the things that I have learned over the past 4 years is that the psychological effects of bladder cancer eventually take their toll on our mental health. During our treatment plans, our bodies go through so much - fatigue, sickness, surgery - that it isn't surprising that our minds don't keep up with it all. We may have thought that we have processed everything we have been through, but sometimes there are emotions and feelings that we haven't let out. This is okay! This is normal!
Your mind has to catch up with your body
You are now, mentally, having to come to terms with your physical journey. It is a hard place to be in at times. You may find yourself bursting into tears or find yourself becoming more introverted and sensitive about things. Or even flying off the handle for small silly things. You may have a battle going on in your head because, for now at least, you appear to be cancer-free, so surely you should be shouting it from the rooftops? But perhaps, deep inside, you are filled with fear, confusion, and unsettling emotions? This is okay! This is normal.
Taking time to heal emotionally
We need to take time to allow ourselves to feel what we feel without criticism, without judgment - that also means from ourselves as well. I felt that I couldn't feel unhappy, upset or depressed because I was ALIVE and that was surely the point of the treatment. So to then speak to others about how I was feeling and being honest, I was told to "cheer up" or "Well, that's over now, isn't it?" and, "Don't think about it coming back; just focus on the future." What future do I have? Where do I go from here? So many questions, but no one else has the answers but YOU!
Those comments made me feel ashamed that I felt down, depressed, and anxious. I was living and breathing, and I thought that thinking those negative thoughts was ungrateful and selfish. Those comments really messed with my mind. I knew where they were coming from, and half of me agreed with them, but just because you are told that, for now, you are cancer-free does not mean that you are over it and can move on in one day. You don't get to skip away into the sunset; it's far more grey than that. It also made me feel bad that I had survived despite those grim odds. I survived and others didn't.
We all know how a cancer diagnosis changes your life. The anxiety it brings with it. The sleepless nights and those never-ending tears. Deep down we all may have something inside of us that perhaps we never said during treatment. Our deepest, darkest thoughts that we wouldn't share because we were too scared to say them out loud to our loved ones. I know I have. Coming to terms with everything that you have been through may require seeking some help. Talking therapies are fantastic in being able for you to express how you feel, without upsetting your loved ones. A trained therapist can help you unload all those bottled up emotions and also to help you make sense of your "new normal".
Your "new normal" is just "normal". Life changes, life evolves, and so do we. And yes, it IS really hard in the beginning to accept the new limitations of who we are and how we used to do things. I struggled with this for around a year, constantly being grateful, thankful about being alive but not also acknowledging that my health had taken a downward dip, and I just couldn't do the things that I had done before treatment.
Know your limitations
I have learned that if I am going to see the grandchildren, have a day out, or just have a busy day, then I need to make sure that the day before and after, I take as rest days. Otherwise, I won't have enough energy to keep going.
Talk, talk, and keep talking!
Talking about how we are feeling helps us to come to terms with who we were and who we are. The same fabulous person, just with many more layers to us (think onion). I personally, think these layers are our growth, our understanding of facing adversity and winning (for now, or maybe for a lot longer than we had even hoped). If you are struggling with your emotions, then please go and have a chat with your doctor. They will be able to help you. There is absolutely nothing to feel ashamed of. Cancer is scary; the treatments can be scary. You have been through so much, now allow yourself time to heal, emotionally and psychologically.
Own the small achievements and feel good!
I still have days where I detest this fat, decrepit body. Everything hurts at times. Walking is becoming a bit more of an issue as my legs constantly flare up, and I feel just so tired. My therapist has taught me to look at the small things that I achieve on those days. It may be just getting out of bed and facing the day, or it may be that I cooked dinner, but whatever it is, it reminds me that things are temporary and that tomorrow may well be a better day.
Do whatever you need to do
It does get better...I think. I'm 4 years on from my diagnosis, and I am doing okay. Coming to terms with my body changes its limits. It's still frustrating and emotionally challenging. I still have dark thoughts at times. I'm super sensitive.
Do whatever you need to do. You have survived. Now make a life to live.
And be proud!
Of where you came from and how much you have grown. Give yourself a much-needed hug.