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The Cancer Hangover

DaisyLife after breast cancer

Life after breast cancer is a bit like the feeling you get the day after a massive night on the town, only without the fun bit beforehand. Basically, you face a cancer-hangover.

Nearly three years after my diagnosis with Her2+ breast cancer treated by surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and Herceptin, I don’t think I’m ready for another sesh quite yet. Because it turns out that the cancer-hangover has two parts….

The physical hangover

A day on the sofa watching rubbish telly and drinking fat coke isn’t going to help you here. The physical hangover of cancer treatment is a lot harder to get over. It’s only when I look back that I realise how completely bloody awful I felt up until about three months ago.

But I’ve viewed the physical recovery as a challenge: a mission to get fit again. I combated fatigue with yoga and walking, then running and now I’m feeling comparatively good about dragging on the Lycra.

I have lymphedema so there is a plan to follow to keep that under control as well. Every morning, after a shower, I do 20 minutes upper body exercises with arm weights to keep the muscles moving which moves the lymph about too. After the weights, and every night before bed, I do manual lymphatic drainage, taught to me by my brilliant lymphedema therapists. All this work keeps the lymph from pooling because unlike your blood, lymph has nothing to pump it about your body. Unless you do the hard work, it just stays put. I will have to do these exercises for the rest of my life, but that’s OK with me, I quite like doing them. It’s helpful that there’s a roadmap to follow and it’s within my power to follow it.

 Ostensibly, life is the same as before cancer. I go to work. I do mum stuff. I run and go out with my friends.  But underneath, life is completely different.

The mental hangover

But the mental hangover is a totally different matter. Ostensibly, life is the same as before cancer. I go to work. I do mum stuff. I run and go out with my friends.

But underneath, life is completely different.

Part of me is so grateful to be alive that I LOVE everything and everyone.

Another part of me worries that I’m not being grateful enough for being alive and feeling well.

This is of course when I’m not worrying about a recurrence or getting secondary cancer and wondering whether I need to go to the doctor about this random ache/pain/mole/scratch/odd feeling (delete as required).

And the other tricky bit is the survivor’s guilt. Why am I OK when many, friends included, are not?

So I find myself lying on the sofa watching rubbish telly, drinking fat coke and feeling grateful for my life and all the amazing things that the world has to offer. And the conclusion that I have come to is that life after breast cancer is just like life, complicated and a bit scary but pretty bloody amazing.

Daisy is a working and running mum in her 40s from Wales, and a breast cancer survivor.

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Discussion

Donna Morrison (not verified)

Thank you for sharing your story, Daisy. It's actually reassuring for me to know that I'm not the only one with survivors guilt. I had cervical cancer and had a hysterectomy three months ago.
Compared to some people (yourself included by the sound of it) I had a relatively easy time. I didn't need any further treatment.
I have friends who have invited me to cancer support groups, but I feel like I would be rubbing it in other peoples faces to share my story. Your story makes me realise that the guilt happens no matter what your cancer story is.
Sending you hugs, and best wishes for a healthy and happy future.
Donna x