There is so much information given to you when you are first diagnosed with cancer, although many of the small details and life changes are left out. These are points from other cancer warriors and medical care professionals can help you to understand what you may be facing with your new cancer diagnosis and future treatment plans.
When you talk to people who are fighting through cancer, or have already faced that battle and won, they will be quick to fill you in on the side effects of chemotherapy, radiation and give you their tips on how to ease all of the nausea and discomfort. They might tell you about their support groups, the supplements their doctors and naturopaths have suggested they take and fill you in on the latest homeopathic trends.
You may be one of the lucky ones and have a medical care team that fills you in on every detail, lets you know what to expect, and all of the nitty gritty details that go with your cancer. But if you are like many others, there are certain topics that never seem to be addressed at all and may have been beneficial to know before going in. Sharing the trials and experiences of others can often help give us knowledge and help to better understand the things we may be facing in the future when dealing with cancer.
These are just some of the points that they don’t tell you when your cancer arrives.
- You will find out who your real friends are, make new friends, and lose some old friends. During your toughest trials and longest bed-bound stints, those who help, support and bring you back to the light are your people. The people who checked on you before your diagnosis are your genuine tribe. Hold them close. The truth is, everyone feels bad when they find out someone they know, knew, or had any connection with is stricken with cancer. However, making your cancer announcement may make you feel like you are getting “sympathy” from people you have not heard from in decades. You may notice people staring at you, your scars, your reconstructed chest, or your pale skin. Try to remember that they mean well, even if it does feel fake. These situations can also introduce you to new friends and acquaintances who may be riding in the same boat you are.
- Your appetite will not be as it once was. You may find yourself at the grocery store, filling up your cart with the foods you love, drooling over the anticipation for the meal. Once you’re home and made the meal, you may be able to eat two or three bites before becoming so incredibly nauseated that you cannot muster your fork. If you are a frugal person or one that likes little to no waste, this point in your life may prove to be difficult. Try not to feel guilty about food or money wasted on food you cannot eat and understand that this will change eventually.
- Cancer does not care if you were a healthy, vegan body builder before. It does not care about your health, or your body mass index, or your body fat percentages. It does not care which sweeteners you use, or all of the toxins in the world that you avoid. Cancer can and will pop up into anyone’s life, at any time. This is why knowing the signs and symptoms, and being aware of your own body, is key in early detection of ALL cancer types.
- You are your body’s master and know it better than anyone. You know your different sneezes, coughs, and issues. You can often immediately tell when a sickness is coming on if you will need to go see your primary care physician, or if you will be able to ride it out with lemon tea and honey. If you suspect a problem within yourself, you need to become your own advocate and vocalize your concerns with your doctors. Understand that in some cases, this may mean getting a second or third opinion. If you are experiencing issues that are affecting your every day life, be persistent and honest about everything that is happening. Doctors misdiagnose cases all the time, as no one human is perfect- especially when it comes to the world of medicine. Never ignore your symptoms.
- Your intimacy and sexual desires may change or disappear. In the chaos of treatment and living, you may wake up one day and find that your sexual desires have changed along with your physical body. This may mean that you cannot partake in intimate times as you had before with your partner, and this can take a toll on a relationship if not addressed as it occurs. It is normal to have a certain amount of decline in desire during chemotherapy and treatment, but these issues can be addressed in a variety of non-medical ways and help to restore your sex life. There are certain products and devices designed for people going through vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy, erectile dysfunction, loss of erection, and more.
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- The side affects you will experience are gut wrenching and life changing. You have most likely heard about chemotherapy and the side effects that arise. It is an entirely different feeling to watch the medication drip into your veins, knowing that it is both helping and hurting you in various ways. Chemotherapy will make you feel weak, sick, and powerless and most often there is nothing you can do except cuddle up in bed and rest it out. Your mouth will taste of metals and iron, which will make any small bite of food you try to eat taste terrible. Do not give up through this war. Fight the internal pain to the light, where it will once again get better.
- Not everyone you meet in the cancer ward will lose their battle against this disease. It can truly go either way for anyone with cancer. Many more people are surviving a myriad of cancers with the advances in medication, surgical technologies, and early detection. That said, cancer is a deadly condition that can take anyone just as quickly. The key to this battle is to keep a level head, and never give up.
- You will become attached to your nurses and doctors like family. Your nurses will become your distant family members, and in some cases, close friends. This second family of yours is working to save your life, so it really only makes sense!
- You will get used to and possibly begin to like needles. If you had a needle fear before your diagnosis, that is sure to be washed away within your first few months of testing. You will reach pin-cushion status within six months and become a needle professional thereafter. Most likely, you will end up having a port installed, which will cut down on the amount of sticks and pricks.
- Do not worry about your hair, or lack thereof. Our body’s hair follicles come equipped with fast growing cells. Yes, your hair will fall out during your chemotherapy, but this baldness will be temporary! Wear your symbol of strength and power proudly! This is one of the most significant signs of a cancer warrior that others can see. Once your chemotherapy has been ceased, your hair will grow back!
- The cancer perks people speak of are indeed real. These “cancer perks” can be different for everyone. For example, not having to shave because the chemo has wiped your body clean of hair could be beneficial for those with body hair phobias. Having your treatment badge can get you in to local museums and centers for free. Some businesses and restaurants have discounts and perks for those dealing with cancer and treatment.
- Nothing will prepare you for the day you hear your diagnosis. Nothing. The words coming from your doctor’s mouth will change your life and everything in it in seconds. This will be the longest, toughest, hardest fought journey of your life from the moment the words have come out of their mouth, to the moment they declare you are again cancer-free.
- You are going to laugh, and you are going to cry. Let yourself do both whenever you need to! This is an emotional journey that has no rules, so you can do whatever is best for you!
- You will feel losses, hard. Because life does not stop for any of us, healthy or sick, you will watch everyone progress and keep moving through life, while you feel alone and stuck. Some will graduate, get married, have kids, explore the world, save the world, and experience things you could only dream of. You may lose friends and family members and big life opportunities. This will make you feel limited, stagnant, unsuccessful, and worthless. It is during this time that reminding yourself of your own personal strength and keeping a level, stable mental outlook will help to keep you on track. Remember that this is not your fault, and not a fight you asked for. You will learn to accept your new life and find comfort in slowing down to heal. During this slow down, you may learn more about yourself and life than you ever have before. Hold on to this entire experience and let it shape you, but not change who you are.
These points just go to show that sometimes when we share our experiences with others and listen to their own stories, we can learn so much about our own battles and the paths available for us to take. Never be afraid to speak up and share your story. Your story may be the very thing that helps someone else push through their hardest moments in life!