The last two Herceptin cycles were quite different. The second to last one made me feel tired, a little nauseous and I had quite a few headaches. With the most recent one, I felt really good. It’s interesting how each cycle seems to have its own personality.
I have still struggled with headaches and migraines. I started taking a headache prevention medication and definitely they reduced but not completely. Last week, I had so much to do and lots on my mind and I ended up having two migraines, two mornings in a row. So I haven’t quite got the answer to migraines yet. But going to acupuncture helps as does the chiropractor. The main thing seems to be keeping my stress levels way down. And giving up chocolate.
Finishing treatment soon
So here I am in early July and I only have two Herceptin cycles to go. I can not wait to stop going into the chemo day ward each 21 days and putting pressure on these fragile veins on the back of my left hand. However, it also feels odd. I have been in the hospital system since April 2011 having surgeries and chemo and whatever scan. It feels precarious to leave the safety of the hospital. I guess I have been institutionalised to a degree.
I know what to expect from having bc last time: for a few months after treatment ends, there is an anxiety in existing without doctors constantly doing check ups . It feels like my life and body are a bit unsafe – that I need to be monitored more. But after a few months, the feeling starts to subside and turns into anxiety around the time of follow up appointments e.g. a mammogram, or the five years of follow up appointments with my breast surgeon. Each time I return to the offices where I was diagnosed, I feel a bit upset. Sometimes I burst into tears in the waiting room which doesn’t feel like a good look but is quite common.
Fear of recurrence
All the feelings of trauma or nausea are triggered each time I go back to the hospital and meet my surgeon. Even when she will say “everything is fine”, I feel suspicious. In my mind, there is a conversation that goes something like this “well, I felt fine before but I wasn’t fine – so surely now, I have to be extra vigilant about looking for cancer in my body”. Every ache or pain, lump or bump triggers an anxiety or tears. Is this cancer AGAIN?
Well no, it’s actually an illusion, my mind tricking me. At this point, I am cancer free and from my research, any lump in my body that is suspicious will be found by a mammogram or my specialist at about the same time as I would find it just living normal life (as I have regular appointments with a breast specialist). So I can relax and forget about cancer and let the specialists take care of that.
It does feel surreal…I am getting to the point where I can kind of forget about cancer. It takes longer than that mentally though. And there is a tiny anxiety that after four and a half years after the first bc, I had completely forgotten about cancer. And then, there it was again. But once again, I must go out in to life and forget about any fear of recurrence. My best medicine is to live without any fear, have fun, live a balanced life, have check ups…just get on with it.
The new life plan
Time will heal everything and fingers crossed, I will not be going through this all again. Maybe I can start to plan the next stages of my life. Once I finish Herceptin, let Herceptin leave my body over a few months…and then, start my new life. It is exciting but it feels quite big. Another big milestone is just around the corner.
I feel that I have changed a lot with this breast cancer and all the treatment. It has made me realise that life is short lived and not to concern myself with doing things for stability, security or money. It is time to live as if I have no fear of those things. To stand up and be me, and just do what I want to do and what makes me happy. Okay, I might not own a house right away but I have time to enjoy life.
What helps with the fear of recurrence?
- Getting the facts from your specialist. There is no need to constantly monitor yourself or live in fear.
- Counselling or other types of emotional therapies. You have been through a trauma and it is time to heal all these difficult experiences.
- Support – seek out support from a friend or a group that understands.
- Time is the great healer, take time to recover from bc and gradually fears will diminish.
- Plan an end of treatment celebration or holiday.
- Write about your experiences and get the feelings out of your system.
- Read the Cancer Society resources on finishing treatment and talk to a Cancer Society nurse.
- Don’t ignore the fear. But do something to move the fear!
What has helped me at this milestone point?
- Friends and family.
- Fun – doing enjoyable things.
- Writing down my feelings.
- Planning an end of treatment holiday to the South Island with three friends.
- Talking to supportive people.
- Art therapy and other support networks.
- Not putting pressure on myself to go back to work until I’m feeling a lot better.
- Leaving major life plans until now – not trying to work it all out well in advance of the end of treatment date.
- I just completed a two year plan for things I want to do in the next two years.
- My website has been great therapy and a positive focus.
Let me know – what are your tips to life post-bc and with fears of recurrence?