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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

Joan Stakounis (not verified)

Thanks so much for sharing. I have just read your post after a week or recurring panic attacks. I was diagnosed 4 years ago HER2+ and have had the full monty - operations/node clearance/chemo/radio and now letrozole. Also discovered i am ostiopenia so have adcal d and alendrotnic acid and my blood pressure has not come down since my diagnosis so am on bp tablets to. Prior to all this i didnt even take paracetamol !! However, I have managed to get off the sertraline and the beta blockers - which i needed following all the panic attacks at the end of treatment - so there is some progress. It was very comforting to read your post as it is so correct - life is never quite the same - but it is life, it is complicated and scary but it is also amazing. The panic attacks are probably part of my mental recovery and I have managed them myself this time - no sertraline - so thats more progress. In the same way my physical recovery has progressed so has my mental recovery. Your post helped switch on this light bulb so thank you xxx

Emma J (not verified)

Thanku for sharing. We had the same type of cancer and the same treatment. I can do relate to all these feelings! X

Sylvia (not verified)

I have had breast cancer diagnosed in 2018 had breast surgery for grade three cancer which was aggressive all lymph nodes removed and had breast reconstruction. Came home day after all this, had one intravenous injection of chemotherapy nearly killed me, Dr said couldn’t have anymore of that or it would have finished me off, had fifteen radiotherapy sessions ok, but lost my hair through that one dose of intravenous, I was devastated and heart broken, pleased to say after a dreadful nine months of wearing a wig I now have my own hair back. I am on injections for calcium and chemotherapy tablets indefinitely because it is secondary in my lower spine, I also take Letrozole tablets. The hospital are fantastic with me, and I know they will keep me here as long as possible I am now seventy eight years young and hope to have many more years left. The only down is depression at various times sore mouth ulcers ( side effects from chemotherapy tablets) and I get very tired. Think I’m still in shock with the diagnosis but I trust, believe and do everything the hospital advise me to do. I live in hope.