The above is one of the main questions that cancer patients and caregivers have when the treatment is progressing satisfactorily. What happens after?
Many patients and their carers expect that life will revert to “normality”, this is, going back to where everything was before the cancer diagnosis. Going back to the job and responsibilities. Going back to feeling alright in body and mind. Going back to routines with family and friends. In one word, returning to where one left before cancer.
First question, Is this possible reverting to pre-cancer “normality”?
Many patients realise that after treatment, both mind and body are not quite what they used to be. The body has been affected by the treatment. There are visible and non-visible impacts regarding appearance and feelings of pain, tiredness, body flexibility and resilience. Mentally, there is still anguish and a lot of uncertainty. There is sadness for the experience, and anxiety to perform and behave in a “normal” way. Family and friends need to go back to their routines, and the patient will be expected to re-gain control of the care, medicines and other chores, to attend to pending affairs, and to behave by and large as it was before.
In terms of work, some cancer patients may not be able to go back to their former job. Some patients may need to quit their work altogether. Some employers and colleagues may expect that the person will re-take over her/his former job and responsibilities, catch up with whatever has changed while they were away, and perform as good, if not better, than previously. Some conscientiously prepared and responsible employers will propose a gradual return to work, allowing for the space and time that the patient (and the carer) may require to re-gain confidence and reassume their tasks. However, some other employers and colleagues may not be aware or prepared to offer and provide a transitional period. These last ones will make matters rather difficult for the patient (and the caregivers).
The second question, Is it desirable to go back to the former “normal”?
I have not met yet one single cancer patient who can revert to their pre-cancer “normality”. Cancer is a “life changing experience” that cannot be put into a drawer in order to forget it.
As a consequence of the physical and mental impact of the illness and its treatment, cancer patients need a significant and unpredictable period of time to “digest” and “cope” with cancer. The impact of cancer remains alive for years after the treatment is finished, not only because the patient does not feel and think as before, but because the need for continuous check-ups and warning signals which will be a permanent companion of any cancer survivor after treatment.
Additionally, the impact of the illness on the patient’s life usually brings repercussions regarding their priorities in life, the way that patients need to live from now onwards, the level of energy and dedication they can and want to make available for different tasks and commitments in their lives.
Life will very rarely be the same for cancer patients (and their carers). However, the medical treatment once completed, involves an almost absolute severance from the support infrastructure that typify the prior cancer treatment stage. The doctors and nurses are not there anymore. The caregivers have now more limitations to accompany and support the patient in this new phase. There is usually no one to listen to the patient’s concerns and to discuss expectations regarding their “new normal”.
Many of my clients have benefited greatly from coaching during this period. The conversation about what is possible and desirable comes to the forefront. Patients become aware of their expectations and real capabilities. They also use this safe space to ponder about what they really wish and what they would like to change towards their “future life”. Good coaching sessions allow patients to explore and establish a new “normal” in their lives. This may build on their “past normal”. However, what is built after the cancer experience is a lot richer and more sustainable that many of the things one did in our “pre-cancer life”. Superior things than those which were accepted or performed in the past.
The “new normal” can be the best that a cancer patient wish for, to benefit themselves and their surrounding environment. Coaching can make a vital contribution to a patient’s life by providing the “next-step support” after medical treatment. Try it. You will never regret it!