Life after treatment – why it’s important to let the memories go

This entry was written by Linda Oken. Linda, a dedicated LBBC volunteer, also blogs regularly about her quality-of-life experiences: 

Remembering … or NOT

As that time of my life moves further in the past, I find that I have forgotten so many details of what the experience of treatment was like.  Starting from the day of the biopsy, the next 7 months of my life included diagnosis of my triple negative breast cancer, then lumpectomy surgery, followed by more than 6 weeks of daily radiation and 6 months of twice a month chemotherapy.  All of that was more than 11 years ago!!

Those 7 months came with a lot of anxiety, fatigue, side effects, discomfort and worry.  As I focused on each decision (lumpectomy or mastectomy?  chemo or no chemo?  where to go for treatment?)  I read and learned all I could in order to make an informed decision at every step.   My mind was filled with information overload.  I called it “All this stuff I never wanted to know about.”  Often I would wake up in the middle of the night and review the overwhelming amount of info in order to make the next decision, and hope that it would be the right one for me at the time, and for my future.

But today, if you were to ask me about what absorbed me so completely in those days, I am no longer able to remember many of the details.  What was the name of that medication I had to take exactly every 6 hours for 3 days after each round of chemo?  Who knows anymore?  And at this point, why should I care?  Because now, if I were to have a recurrence or a new cancer, a lot of what I experienced 11 years ago would be irrelevant today.  So much has changed.

How about you?  Are you in treatment now?  Does it seem to be taking over your life and your thoughts as it seemed to me at times back then?   Are you as obsessed with the details as I was back then?  When you are finished with your treatment, and I hope you will be soon, these details will fade from memory.

If your treatment is behind you, it is time you work on the process of letting go of that part of your life.  Take some time to think about what you now want to do with your time and your energy.  Yes, you still have to make follow-up appointments – and show up for them!  Yes, you still have to take care of your health. 

But you do not have to lie awake at night thinking about all those active treatment concerns any more.  At least, that is what I realized after a while. 

Since those days I have enjoyed many other life experiences totally different than treatment for breast cancer: for example the marriage of my daughter, the births of my grandchildren.  Indeed, these are the memories I cherish and would rather bring to mind.  Join me in trying not to remember those days. After all, we want to live, beyond breast cancer.

Linda shares a moment with her two granddaughters.

Of course there have been other unpleasant events in my life as well, but I do try to focus on the good stuff.  True, it’s not easy sometimes.  And the petty nuisances of daily life too often absorb my attention and drive me nuts, as they do all of us.  Then I remind myself that, as annoying as they are, problems like car trouble are definitely preferable to dealing with cancer!

Let us know how and when you decided to move forward after breast cancer treatment. What advice would you offer to women who seem to have a hard time letting go of the ups and downs of treatment? Comment here or on our Facebook page.

11 thoughts on “Life after treatment – why it’s important to let the memories go

  1. So interesting, I just wrote about this on my own blog! In my case, it had to do with getting my hair cut 🙂 It’s odd how certain things can just compel us at times to think about the treatment stage, and it’s so easy to get stuck in a painful moment. Thx for the reminder to try and let it go.

  2. My wife was diagnosed with TNBC in January of this year. That began the same process of knowledge-gathering and decision making which you addressed here. She just had DIEP FLAP reconstructive surgery in San Antonio two weeks ago and is feeling great. She feels like her new breast has put this episode behind her. My advice for everyone:
    1. Get informed, online and local sources
    2. Get at least 2-3 opinions on each specialist. Never put your faith in one doctor.
    3. Have a person with you at all dr. appointments taking copious notes, after preparing for each visit with a list of questions.
    4. Make decisions with confidence. If you do 1-3 above, you will know more than any one dr. about YOUR condition.

  3. I was totally ‘moving on’ after my breast cancer diagnosis in 2003. I had a lumpectomy, chemo, and then radiation. I was enrolled in a teacher training program even before starting the 30+ rounds of radiation on weekdays. My classes were in the evenings and weekends, so there’s no conflict except fatigue. Few people realized that I was wearing a wig!

    Ignorance is a bliss – it took me almost three years (‘four’ from the time of initial diagnosis) to realize that the lumpectomy did not get all the tumor which was also resistant to both chemotherapy and radiation. And I had thought the fatigue and weight-loss was a result of the pressures from my new jobs…

    So I had a mastectomy and underwent chemotherapy (with Herceptin, the miracle drug for Her2+++ breast cancer) again. That was four years ago.

    Talking about it – as I constantly do on the online support forums – helps relieve the trauma. Sharing my story to encourage others makes my life more meaningful. There was a time when I was ‘depressed’ – the key is to talk about it. Be sure to let your doctors/nurses know if you are feeling the ‘blues’.

  4. How do you move on after 14 recurrences? Breast cancer in mine and others ‘cases is a chronic disease. I live for the day and take great pleasures in simple things, taking nothing for granted. I am grateful to be alive but I’ve been in treatment for 26 years!

  5. The above is great advice from R. Marie Borg.
    I find most days are good but every now and then something triggers the pain of the past. This is when I say to myself, “It is OKay to cry, feel afraid, doubt my recovery.” I accept my feelings and then I pick myself up and move on. Focussing on life’s positives helps me!

  6. In June I finished 38 radiation treatments for my second round of breast cancer. The first was in 2000. I had closed the door on all worry only to find it again in the other breast. I did not have to have chemo either time–only a lumpectomy and radiation. I do not dwell on it and I hope I can close the door this time for good. I have said both times if God stays beside me I will get through it.

  7. Thank you for the article. I can totally relate. I went through treatment 4 1/2 years ago, and also find it hard to remember many of the details of my treatment — even though I was totally immersed in as much information that I could find when I was first diagnosed. Sometimes I think that I should do a better job of keeping on top of those details — it’s nice to know that I am not alone and that it is part of moving on.

  8. Good advice for all, as I approach my one year anniversary since my diagnosis, mastectomy etc, my oncologist told me in one year it would be a bad memory. He was right! Cancer puts everything else into perspective, not too many things worse than the words “you have cancer”. The information overload and the waiting game can be unbearable. I was second guessing all of my decisions and I am a nurse and my husband a physician. If you are newly diagnosed, hang in there, it does get better!

  9. Live in the now, the best advice anone can recieve. Don’t let breast cancer be a ball and chain. I am approaching the 18 month mark of my diagnosis and of course I still become a little concerned at the time of my follow-up visits but I refuse to dwell on what got me to
    this point.
    Don’t be afraid to live your dreams. My diagnosis was 3 weeks before we were moving from CA to CO, a dream of many years. The house was sold, most of our belongings packed and my husband asked me if I still wanted to move and I said yes. We stayed with our daughter in CA during my treatment then 3 weeks after my last chemo left for CO. I have no regrets.
    Don’t be afraid to reach out to resources that can help you through the next minute, day, week, month or however much time you need. I did at one very low time. I felt as if no one understood my feelings. Well someone did and thier support let me know everything was going to be fine.
    We are women who have been through a huge life challenge. It may come again and then it may not. Regardless, let’s take in all the “good stuff” we can everyday. Keep those smiles coming!!

  10. I don’t know that I’ll ever be comfortable with the idea of “don’t look back.” We have to learn from our past to shape our future, regardless of how many days, months or years that future might be. I have a 6 yr old child. I was diagnosed weeks before his 5th birthday. I may live to guide him to adulthood, but I may not live long enough to see him through middle school.

    That ambiguity makes me feel like I really need to try and do my best to enjoy every day I am blessed with, do everything I can to avoid the horrible stress I was under before diagnosis, and to teach him lessons no one else will. I don’t know how long I will be able to influence his development and temper some of the other influences in his life, so this is very important to me.

    As a recovering workaholic, who has just returned to work part time, I put a picture of my completely hairless self (no eye brows or lashes) and son in my cubicle as a visual reminder to myself. That was me less than a year ago. Treatment was a living hell. This job pays the bills, but is not worth such stress that I have a recurrence or compromise my immune system and allow any remaining cancer cells an opportunity to thrive. I am very passionate about what I do for a living and care just a little too much for my own good. I need to take care of myself so that I am here to guide my son as long as possible. If I forget that, if I stop remembering, I’ll go back to being the stressed out over achiever I was before diagnosis. Sometimes, remembering is good…

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