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Life after cancer | Emotional impact

 How did it feel to receive a cancer diagnosis, and what helped you at the time?

 What was the emotional impact of having cancer? Are my feelings normal?

 How do I deal with this terrible fear of recurrence? I don't feel safe inside my body anymore.

 My hysterectomy for cancer was considered curative - is it normal to feel nervous about a recurrence?

 I've heard that some women get depressed after a hysterectomy. Is it true?

 How can I deal with depression before, during, or after my cancer treatment?

 When someone asks me how I'm doing, do I say I HAVE cancer or HAD cancer? When do I NOT have cancer?

 How do I "put it all behind me", now that my treatments are done and my family thinks I should "move on"?

 

 How did it feel to receive a cancer diagnosis, and what helped you at the time?

 Diane S., Virginia, USA: Getting a diagnosis of cancer was a terrible shock to my whole being. You never realize it, but you take your body for granted. Mine had let me down horribly. The first thing I did was hug my husband and cry. I cried at nothing; I cried at everything. Sleep? - forget sleeping.

I played "what if": What if I have chemo or radiation? What if I lose my hair? What if they find cancer elsewhere? What if I die? My ultrasound showed abnormal growths on my ovaries. I now knew I had endometrial cancer. What if my ovaries were cancerous too? The ultrasound showed a cyst on my kidney. What if I had kidney cancer? My best friend died three days after her hysterectomy from a blood clot at age 56. What if I died too, not from cancer, but the operation? "What ifs" ruled my life!!!!

I confessed my feelings to my husband. He said, "You're going to see your regular doctor now!!!" I got an early appointment. To help me through this dilemma, my doctor gave me a limited prescription for sleeping pills, anxiety pills, and a tranquilizer. This sounds like a lot, but I only took the tranquilizer for crying jags. At first, I was afraid of becoming "addicted" to the medications, and saw taking pills as being weak. My doctor assured me I wouldn't be on them long enough for addiction to occur. These pills helped me get the rest I needed and enabled me to function well enough to make some decisions about my treatment and to go on in my daily life. Don't be afraid to ask for help from your doctor to deal with sleeplessness and anxiety. Cancer is a very scary thing to deal with - get all the help you can.

I was very fortunate in both my primary care physician and my gyn-oncologist. They treated me with respect and understanding. Having confidence in both enabled me to start feeling better about the whole prospect of dealing with cancer. My gyn-oncologist said he'd seen lots of gyn cancers, and mine was early stage. This brought me hope for my future. He and his staff were on call if I had concerns or questions.

My relatives and friends rallied around me, surrounding me with warmth and caring. I felt loved. One dear neighbor had her church add me to their prayer list. The email group at EyesOnThePrize.org answered all my questions big and small. They held my hand and gave me a push when necessary. All of these things gave me the strength to go on and fight the beast.

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 Fay S., Victoria, Australia: Hearing that you have cancer is very traumatic, and I think it is a normal reaction to feel great shock. My diagnosis came to me by way of a telephone call. Although I knew that my uterine biopsy would be tested for cancer, my heart skipped a few beats when I heard the doctor's voice and I knew what he was about to tell me. I actually had a pen and paper on the table and I wrote down what he said. I am sure I would not have remembered very much otherwise. I spent the next hour trying to locate my husband, and then I made a cup of tea and waited for him to come home.

My husband cried, but I wasn't able to cry for about a week. We decided that we needed a little time to absorb the shock, so we only told family and friends when we felt we were ready to do so.

As I didn't know anything about uterine cancer, I phoned the local cancer organisation and a booklet arrived the next day. Having some information really did help to take some of the fear away. From the information in the booklet, I started writing down questions that I wanted to ask the doctor.

At first I felt quite numb and shaky inside, and this feeling persisted for well over a week. I didn't feel as though I was coping very well at all, and the thought of getting through each day was just too much to bear. A feeling of being alone was strong, even though I had a lot of love and support. I wished I could talk to someone who had uterine cancer but I didn't know anybody.

It didn't take long to realise that I should just try to get through small sections of the day - a bit at a time. This worked well for me. My faith gave also me great comfort. Walking helped a lot and often I would put on a coat and walk at night. The world seemed more intense - my awareness of the wind on my face, the sun on my skin. These sensations seemed heightened and I tried to connect with these feelings. Listening to music was also something that helped me to relax. Writing down how I felt each day provided a way of expressing my fears and thoughts. I gave myself permission to cry when I felt the need, and for me, this was a great release of emotional tension.

I think the worst part was at night after my husband fell asleep. I didn't sleep very well, and when I did sleep, I had such vivid dreams. Lack of sleep was not helping me, so I knew I had to do something about it. I made sure I had a supply of very boring magazines beside my bed. When I could not sleep, I would reach for the magazines as they were easy to read, a good distraction, and helped me to go back to sleep again.

Two weeks after diagnosis, I met with the doctor who answered all my questions and explained the treatment plan. After this appointment, I felt more secure and confident. When I joined the EyesOnThePrize email group, finally I was connected with women who understood how I was feeling and who were able to share their experiences with me. Knowing what to expect before and after surgery took away a lot of the fear.

Hearing a cancer diagnosis isn't easy. I think the important thing to remember is to talk to your doctor if you need help.

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 What was the emotional impact of having cancer? Are my feelings normal?

 Georgia P., Massachusetts, USA: The emotional impact of cancer is difficult to explain. Factors such as loss of reproductive organs, fertility, disfigurement, anxiety about recurrence, and fear of treatment all produce different reactions in different people. A supportive partner is a big plus, as well as caring family and friends.

I did not have to face the fertility issues, as I was postmenopausal. Disfigurement from a hysterectomy scar did not concern me. I had all the love and support a woman could need from my husband.....but......

For several years I was very anxious about the possibility of recurrence, and every little twinge sent me running to my reference books to see if it could be a symptom of cancer! Nerve damage from radiation, added to arthritis, left me with unexplained aches and pains, and the only way I dealt with that was to tell myself that if they came and went, they likely were not cancer, since I have been told that cancer pain is unrelenting. Now I have finally come to terms with my anxiety, but I imagine if some new and unexplained symptom crops up, I will go running right back to those books for reassurance.

Fear of treatment also was a hurdle for me. I had never had surgery, and was apprehensive about that. Confidence in my doctors helped greatly with that issue. I bounced back well after the surgery, happy to have the cancer GONE and to be able to think about a good future.

However, when told I would need radiation, I became extremely depressed at that prospect, especially when I found out what an internal "implant" was all about. As I went through the external radiation, it wasn't as bad as I had anticipated, but I laid awake at night agonizing over the internal to come. Suffice it to say I did survive it, with the help of Xanax (an anti-anxiety medication), during the hospital stay, and a patient and loving husband, but for months I still would have moments when just the thought of that procedure would set me off again.

I would have been much less anxious had I found an on-line support group as soon as I was diagnosed, for I could have asked my questions of women who had "been there, done that". There is nothing which compares with that sort of personal interaction, not books, not a loving partner, nothing. Talking it out and sharing experiences is what it's all about.

The emotional aspects of living with cancer, even as a survivor, can only be understood, in my opinion, by other cancer patients/survivors. I just don't think anyone else can truly walk in our shoes.

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 Cathy B., Ontario, Canada: I don't think there is an emotion that isn't normal when you have cancer and treatment to deal with. On first diagnosis, I was numb and felt powerless. I let myself be led. Then, as the idea of having cancer became more familiar to me, I became more interested in learning more, and, I became more assertive with my care team. Still, especially while experiencing the side effects of treatment, I felt complete rage, mixed with profound sadness. Fear is a biggie, and I don't think that ever completely goes away for anyone.

One big misconception, I think, is that the further away you move from the diagnosis and treatment, the 'easier' it should be to deal with. I think our families and friends tend to think we should put this 'behind us' and move forward. I think it's like any grief or loss...it can take years. Also, there is a bit of a letdown after treatment ends. Your appointments are far away and you are left with a feeling of not being cared for, or about. You would think you would be relieved to be over with the treatments, but in an odd sort of way, there was a confidence in knowing something was being done. Now you just think something is growing back!

When I add up all the losses I've had because of my cancer, I realize even just one of them is cause for trauma and great anxiety....all together, it's really overwhelming. I lost fertility, youth, womanhood (early menopause), sexuality, job security, career path, unabashed plans for the future, ignorance, control, health, privacy, relationships, independence....whew...one or all at any given time. I sought out help and found it here on the Internet, in the company of others like me. "Normal' was a long time ago.....but most days, that's ok.

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 Sue D., Pennsylvania, USA: I don't think you should even worry about whether any reaction you are having is "normal" or not. What's " normal" about anything during the process of cancer anyway? Cancer is all about "abnormal" and any of our reactions to any part of diagnosing, treating, or living with cancer should just be taken at face value--they are yours, so by definition, they are right for the moment. Don't worry about editing your emotions.

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 How do I deal with this terrible fear of recurrence? I don't feel safe inside my body anymore.

 Katie, California, USA: My lymph node involvement puts me at a high risk for recurrence and, since I was followed so closely, it seemed that my doctors almost expected me to relapse. I got a certain perverse satisfaction out of proving them wrong every three months, but I still was very fearful at first.

One year after treatment was completed, I was diagnosed with very early-stage breast cancer (completely unrelated to my cervical cancer) and the new treatments distracted me from worrying about recurrence of the cervical cancer. Needless to say, I don't recommend getting another disease as a method to ease anxiety. It only postponed things for me. I don't think there's any way to totally avoid the fear. I found that if I allowed myself to feel it, even wallow in it periodically, I was able to live a more or less normal life. If I held things in for too long, I would break into tears at times when I least expected it (don't ask me about the Swedish pancake incident!). After four years, I can say that the fear abates. It hasn't gone away completely, though. Maybe I have just learned to live with it.

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 Karen, Alberta, Canada: After my first experience with cervical cancer, I really had no fear of recurrence. I had total confidence in what my doctors said about an almost 100% cure rate. I didn't know that my HPV status put me at higher risk for recurrence. When I was diagnosed with VAIN lll/possible invasive carcinoma of the vagina four years later, it was a total shock that really knocked me off my feet. Not being able to shake the subsequent fear of recurrence sent me looking for support on the Internet, and talking with other women on an email support group was really helpful. My fears have dimmed with each passing year. Now that I have just passed the five year mark after my radiation treatments, my doctor said I could go back to having a pap smear only once a year, but for my own peace of mind, I plan to continue indefinitely on a six-month schedule.

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 Jax, Massachusetts, USA: My gyn-oncologist told me my radical hysterectomy was curative in close to 95% of cases. He also said that recurrence was most likely in the first eighteen to twenty-four months. I haven't passed that watershed yet and believe me, every abdominal twist and twinge feels scary to me. The best I can say about this is that it doesn't surprise me that I would feel cautious; the whole experience is a horror show and it feels pretty natural to feel wary. My answer is to keep my medical team apprised of anything that feels 'strange' and to trust their judgement. This is where having a doctor you feel confident with is so important!

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 Patti E., Florida, USA: I just got tired of worrying, to tell you the truth. After four times of dealing with cancer, I've decided I'm not worrying anymore because it cuts into my precious life-clock!

When I do worry, I ask myself these questions:

  1. Will worrying make cancer go away/never come back?
  2. Will worrying improve my health?

If I answer "no" to one of the above, then it isn't worth it! I do a lot of imagery and that helps to calm me down, keep me focused on other important things. Also, yoga is good.

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 My hysterectomy for cancer was considered curative - is it normal to feel nervous about a recurrence?

 Jax, Massachusetts, USA: My gyn-oncologist told me my radical hysterectomy was curative in close to 95% of cases. He also said that recurrence was most likely in the first eighteen to twenty-four months. I haven't passed that watershed yet and believe me, every abdominal twist and twinge feels scary to me. The best I can say about this is that it doesn't surprise me that I would feel cautious; the whole experience is a horror show and it feels pretty natural to feel wary. My answer is to keep my medical team apprised of anything that feels 'strange' and to trust their judgement. This is where having a doctor you feel confident with is so important!

 Katie, California, USA: My lymph node involvement puts me at a high risk for recurrence and, since I was followed so closely, it seemed that my doctors almost expected me to relapse. I got a certain perverse satisfaction out of proving them wrong every three months, but I still was very fearful at first.

One year after treatment was completed, I was diagnosed with very early-stage breast cancer (completely unrelated to my cervical cancer) and the new treatments distracted me from worrying about recurrence of the cervical cancer. Needless to say, I don't recommend getting another disease as a method to ease anxiety. It only postponed things for me. I don't think there's any way to totally avoid the fear. I found that if I allowed myself to feel it, even wallow in it periodically, I was able to live a more or less normal life. If I held things in for too long, I would break into tears at times when I least expected it (don't ask me about the Swedish pancake incident!). After four years, I can say that the fear abates. It hasn't gone away completely, though. Maybe I have just learned to live with it.

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 I've heard that some women get depressed after a hysterectomy. Is it true?

 Jax, Massachusetts, USA: My gyn-oncologist warned me that I might get "post-surgical" depression. What surprised me was how good I felt mentally in the weeks right after surgery. I think it was from having passed through a horrible time of not knowing where I was - whether or not there was lymph node involvement. In my case, there was none, and my radical hysterectomy was considered curative. I was one happy recovering surgical patient!

I returned to work six weeks after my surgery. Three or four weeks later I noticed I was in a REALLY bad mood. Slowly I realized that the entire experience was catching up with me. I'm the Queen of the Delayed Reaction and, with a history of dysthemia (chronic depression), I found myself falling back into that dark well. My primary care physician recommended anti-depressants and this time I didn't balk at taking them.

I truly don't know if what I experienced was a "post-surgical" depression, or was just a continuation of a life-time battle with dysthemia. I really think whether or not you get depressed after a hysterectomy depends on the person and her life-history and ways of coping. Some of us are "good soldiers" and don't fall apart until after we've faced a crisis. My point is that no one should be surprised if they feel extraordinarily vulnerable after this kind of experience. And, there are excellent medications available to get you through it if you and your physician feel they are necessary.

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 How can I deal with depression before, during, or after my cancer treatment?

 Patricia, Vermont, USA: I have had low-level depression for many years and have evolved some techniques that work pretty well for me. I am listing them here in hopes somebody else may be helped by trying one of them.

1. I know MY symptoms of depression and have made my partner aware of them too. An example is that if I have not showered for three days, this is a danger sign for me. Sometimes I can work my way out if I don't get in too deep.

2. Exercise is the big help for me. I swim, walk, kayak and ride a bike. But again, this doesn't work when I slide in too deeply. (Of course, check with your doctor before starting any excercise program.)

3. I have a journal in which I chart my feelings on a regular basis.

4. I have another journal in which I write at least five good things about myself, or my life or my surroundings, a day (sometimes that is difficult) and what new thing I have done or learned each day. (Sometimes this can be pretty silly. I told my partner the other day that my new thing for that day was learning how to alphabetize a book whose title began with a number!)

5. I've taken medication in the past to help my depression and I can always ask my doctor about going back to it if I need to.

6. Since I am English, I know the therapeutic value of a "good cry and a nice cuppa tea".

7. If all else fails, I know I can hunker down and wait for it to pass. It always has and I have confidence it always will.

 Carol I., Washington, USA: The cognitive symptoms I was having after treatment disturbed me so much that I finally went to a neuropsychologist for testing. I was afraid I was losing my mind, or had become incredibly stupid. I took a day long battery of tests and was surprised at my scores.

First of all, my intellectual capacity hadn't diminished - it was in the "superior" range. Could have fooled me!!! However, there was a huge discrepancy between my intellect and my memory, which apparently is highly unusual. My memory scores were inconsistent, and well below average. I was very surprised to find out my biggest problem was with encoding (short term storage), rather than transfer (to long term storage), or retrieval (from long term storage). Things were just not sticking!

I also had trouble with "word finding". For instance, they held up pictures of a trellis and a seahorse, and I couldn't remember the names for either. I used the word "vines" the other day in trying to describe the "blinds" I wanted in my front room. No wonder people looked at me strangely! Anyway, this all ties into the next thing.

My emotional scores reflected - to my GREAT surprise - clinical depression! And in fact, the depression was quite high. This was a revelation because I had been working so hard to be positive and I thought I was fairly upbeat in answering the 586 questions on that particular test. I couldn't understand how depression could be reflected in my answers.

Well, I finally understood: the scores showed that I was a "stoic" and that I repressed my emotions. The scores also showed I worried too much about my health (no surprise) and had an above average score for anxiety.

You know, all through chemo, people commented that they were amazed at how upbeat I was, how well I was handling everything, how good I looked, etc. It's only recently that my depression reached the point that I couldn't hide it from myself anymore. It was the hardest thing for me to admit - it was like admitting a fault! But depression is not a fault. There was a breakdown in my neurotransmitters, and between antidepressants and psychotherapy, it is very fixable. I told my psychologist it would be difficult for me to go through psychotherapy as I really don't like to address "messy" emotions. I just want to "be". However, I'm tired of being tired and if it will fix that, I'm open! :-)

My psychologist explained that there is a connection between depression and "low memory encoding". She said that when we fix my depression, my fatigue will diminish, my energy level will increase, my encoding will improve, and there will be less stress on my health.

What I've learned from this is that it's possible to be positive to the point of denial. I was afraid to admit that I was afraid - I had to be strong for everyone and they even rewarded me for it - so any time fear cropped up, I immediately stuffed it. And the same went for my anger - stuffed! I don't remember crying, either. I repressed everything to the point that in the end I became clinically depressed, in spite of all my resistance to depression and insistence on being strong. And all this time, I thought I was being positive! I've always been a positive type of person, so this onset of depression was a surprise - and almost an embarrassment.

The neuropsychologist explained that my coping skills had worked okay for me pre-cancer, but the cancer required stronger coping skills, and I just didn't have the physical or psychological energy it took to repress so much at once and keep it stuffed down without physical repercussions!

Right now, she's having me focus on physical exercise, vitamins (especially B-complex vitamins for depression) and creating a daytimer that will help me manage my memory issues. We've only had one session so far, but I did talk about the fears the plagued me, and I have to admit her intense listening and understanding really did lift my spirits.

I still make an effort to be positive, but now I know I need to be more honest about other feelings that come up, too - acknowledge they are legitimate and try to release them in a healthier way. We're working on that! <grin>

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 Michele T., Pennsylvania, USA: Don't compare yourself to others. Besides the fact that many of us are *much* farther away from our initial diagnosis, even if we were all in the same place, everyone has their own ways of handling the shock and grief and pain of a cancer diagnosis and its accompanying treatments.

Even two years away from treatment, all it takes is one feeling of pain in my vulva (which I get pretty often as I have a chronic pain condition called vulvodynia since my cancer treatment) and I am *not* at all positive. It amazes me how quickly I can spiral down into the depths of despair. It's like a light switch. It's always hovering beneath the surface for me. But I believe in putting one foot in front of the other and doing my best to seize my good moments. But talk to me in those bad moments and I am not so sure. It's normal, it really is.

If you can find something comforting to focus on, so that you don't have to be buried in the fear and despair all of the time it might help. During my treatments I was so sick and my brain was so unable to concentrate that there was very little I could do, so I started doing easy crosswords. It was an activity I could do that would focus my attention and keep my brain concentrated outside of my plight. Since they were easy I didn't get frustrated as my brain was a bit mushy from the chemo. I couldn't read much, television was not interesting to me at the time, and I was too ill to do all of the things I normally liked to do. Somehow that got me through some rough moments, especially those nights when I couldn't sleep. I don't know what you like to do, but there must be something you can do that might help you to take your mind off things, even if only for short periods of time. It's worth a try, anyway.

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 Kathryn, London, England: Regarding feeling depressed after cancer treatment - you're not crazy! It's a natural reaction to what you've gone through. I think the weird thing is that we are expected to act normally. ;-)

My family doctor offered me anti-depressant medication. I didn't take pills, but I did cry a lot, get really angry, bend everyone's ear, and mull over everything. Perhaps everyone thought I was mad (they probably still do) - but I didn't care (and obviously have no shame!) :-) I did see a counsellor, which was helpful. I did some silly things - one of which was that I got a lingerie catalogue and drew hysterectomy scars on all the models. By the end of the book, I was quite bored with this, but I felt a lot better. I hope you can find some outlet too.

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 When someone asks me how I'm doing, do I say I HAVE cancer or HAD cancer? When do I NOT have cancer?

 Patricia, Vermont, USA: I say, "I have had cancer, twice." After I have been free from either of them for five years, I plan to say, "I am a cancer survivor." So in <pause to count on my fingers> October of 2003, I will be a renal cancer survivor, and in April, 2005, I will be a survivor of endometrial cancer.

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 Judy, California, USA: I, too, struggled with the same question of when you can say you are cancer free. Well, I don't know if any of you have heard this, but I've heard we all have cancer, all the time. Everyone walking on this earth. I heard that everyone has cancer at least six times a year, BUT those with strong immune systems never come down with tumors because their immune systems kill them. I do believe the key to cancer is the strength of our immune systems to fight it.

As far as talking about my disease, I really prefer to say, "I was very sick and I feel better now, so how are YOU doing and isn't it a beautiful day?" When I can't get away with that, I say, "I had cancer and it's gone now," and, "so far, so good." I figure, "Hey, why not? They did cut it out." Personally, I don't like saying the "remission" thing. I mean, if you get the flu and get over it, you don't say that flu is in remission, even though probably in your lifetime you will get the flu again. Or even more similar, what about strep throat? We all have strep germs in our bodies all the time, but we only get strep when we can't fight it off, and we don't say our strep throat is in remission, even when we have more than one case of it in a lifetime. Also, I believe our minds are very powerful and if we go around keeping this little niggling doubt that the cancer may return, maybe we could be subconsciously telling it that we are expecting it to return. Forget that!

So I prefer to say, "I had cancer, it is gone. Period." I will keep all my check ups, be vigilant, keep drinking my carrot juice and love my life and those in it. If it comes back, well, then it is a new ball game. That may not be quite how my doctor describes it, but the mind is powerful and if it takes a little positive thinking, well, let me indulge.

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 Georgia P., Massachusetts, USA: Sometimes I use the term "survivor"; sometimes I don't know what to call myself. I am not sure I accept the concept that after a certain number of years I would consider myself cancer free, no matter what a doctor told me. I think this is a presumption no one can state with 100% certainty. After proper treatment and follow-up tests which don't show any visible cancer, I like to think I am cancer free......but I also know that people have had recurrences many years after they would normally happen. So I tread a thin line here and say that as far as I KNOW, I am cancer free, and hope that is the truth. But I remain ever vigilant ......... As far as explaining my current condition to people, I most often say I am a four-year survivor, which gives some reassurance that I am "making it", The only time I say, "I HAD cancer," is when I am in a position to explain further what my treatment was, and how, hopefully, that did remove all cancer from me.

I don't mean to sound gloomy, or depressing. I think it's great to be able to move forward, put this experience behind us and assume we face a long and healthy life ahead, but I am also a believer in "balance" (a Libra) which means I always see both sides of the issue. I can say this.......in the early days after my cancer treatment, I thought about it a lot and I worried about every little unusual symptom......with each passing month and year, I have been able to worry less about these symptoms, and I do feel very good about my future :-) So just keep telling yourself....."I WILL be a survivor!"

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 Michele T., Pennsylvania, USA: The subject of when do you not have cancer is a very interesting one. I like to say that I am now "cancer free" and although I do not know that for sure, all the visible signs show "no evidence of disease" (NED), so I do like to think of myself that way. To me, I'm saying the same thing as NED, but I can see where saying "cancer free" might mean something more to others. But for me, it means that right now all my tests are clear.

My doctor does use the term NED, usually when reading a CT (computed tomography) scan or chest x-ray report. His last comment to me was that when I hit five years, we can start to use the "c" word (as he put it - meaning cure). But he qualified this by saying that while I would never be risk free, the odds would just go way, way down once I reach that point. Anyway, "cancer free" seems more optimistic to me, and heck, I need as much optimism as I can muster. :-)

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 How do I "put it all behind me", now that my treatments are done and my family thinks I should "move on"?

 Georgia P., Massachusetts, USA: I hear the same from my husband, especially now that I am at almost four years past my diagnosis and treatment. When I was diagnosed, and for all the subsequent treatment and initial follow- ups, he was incredibly supportive and remembered the monthly milestones with cards and flowers. He went with me to every appointment and did some very special things during that time and for the first year or so afterwards. However, with time, even I did not mark those milestones with such special significance; nor did he.

When the concept for EyesOnThePrize.org was born, and I was enthusiastic about being a founding member, he didn't say much, but the support I had hoped for in understanding my participation wasn't there. He doesn't discourage me, nor encourage me, for my work for this project. I know he really feels I shouldn't "need" this any more. And I think in some ways he is right. I don't necessarily need it for me, so much, as I need it for all the women who have to find a place where they can share their fears, speak frankly, and receive love and support which only a gyn cancer patient can understand. We have all faced this "unspeakable" disease and we don't have the network of support which breast cancer does. So this is an extra special place; unique and necessary.

So, putting it behind us.......I don't think we ever can completely. I tell my elephant story periodically......in the beginning that elephant is sitting right beside you in the room, big as life itself; in time it retreats back into a corner, and sometimes even shrinks out of sight....and then suddenly it is back beside you when you face a CT scan, Pap smear, or any other follow-up. Hopefully it retreats back into the corner and out of sight afterwards.

Yet we do have to face forward too. We can accomplish this by using every day as a gift; by making it the best day, and the next day, the best, and so on. Attitude is such a big part of survivorship. We can move forward, even while looking back, by reaching out to others who are just beginning to walk the path we have already walked, by sharing our experiences to help make it easier for them, and by letting them know that there are survivors who live normal lives and do the things they did before cancer. Hopefully, in time we can all do this, but, for those dealing with their illness right now, and still uncertain about the possibility of recurrence....no, you can't put it behind you as it's PART OF YOU. You are living it, and you can't just push it into the corner, expecting it to stay there. It will weave back and forth through your days and weeks and then months, and finally years......but it doesn't happen overnight, even with the best of test results.

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 Carol F., Pennsylvania, USA: I can't imagine how terribly worried husbands are when their life partner is diagnosed with cancer. I know mine, normally the rock of Gibraltar, was a wreck.

I echo the words of Georgia, so eloquently said.

So now your family wants you to do two things..... a) put it all behind you, and b) move on.

The "moving on" is easy - it happens because we're survivors. That's the fun part....living every day to the max.

But..........the "put it all behind you" may be impossible. Cancer, by it's very nature, becomes a life-long traveling companion. Each individual diagnosed with cancer receives some startling information, i.e., her body is capable of producing cancer cells. Whoa! That's a shock. So the question is....if my body has done that once, will it recur, and/or can it produce more cancer twice, three times, or more? And where? This is the case with my dear mother, now age 88, with four primary cancers starting when she was in her late 40's: ovarian, uterine and two colon cancers. She's a testimony to survivorship. You can read Margaret's story at: http://www.eyesontheprize.org/stories/margaret.html

I'd very much like to live, like my mom, 88 years! (She's now complaining about living too long. I tell her that's a problem I hope I can face someday!)

I'm always looking over my shoulder at the possibilities of recurrence or developing a new primary. I don't obsess about that possibility, and I don't talk about it too much with others (although I do occasionally), but, I watch my body very, very carefully. I faithfully have my mammograms, annual Paps and chest x-rays, and discuss with my doctor any symptoms I can't explain. Best of all, I continue to feel the support of others at the EyesOnThePrize.org e- mail list - where I can talk all I like with no fear of burdening anyone. That's what's so helpful about this site!!

Actually, I feel that the "elephant", as Georgia has so aptly described it, is good for me. He's big enough that he has to be noticed. He encourages my vigilance, and once admitted to the cancer "club", vigilance coupled with good doctoring is the best defense.

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 Melanie R., New Hampshire, USA: I have not even finished my treatment yet and people are already rushing me to be "normal" and "put it all behind me". I am still grieving for myself and the changes in my life, and they want me to act as if nothing has happened? I understand now that it is just the way that they deal with it. They do not know what it is like and can not even imagine what I am going through, so they shut it out because they don't know any other way to deal with it.

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 Janet N., Tennessee, USA: I found it hard to move forward with my life and was always thinking about every little pain, etc.. I still wonder sometimes, when I get a belly ache, etc.. but I'm better now. The turning point for me was a 23 day vacation to Florida. We visited the keys and spent our days snorkeling, swimming, sightseeing, relaxing and eating tons of seafood that we caught ourselves! I can't explain what happened, but "stuff" just fell off of me and left my head. I came home refreshed, with a clear mind, and I haven't been dwelling on the cancer so much anymore.

Perhaps, if you were able to step away from your immediate environment for a "breath of fresh air", things would get a little better for you. I know a vacation may not be an option for you but maybe just changing your daily routine a little would help. Do you have a favorite activity? A favorite park? Sometimes, being surrounded by the same "four walls" day in and day out only serves to compound our troubles.

In my case, my home, where I cried over my diagnosis and recovered from surgery, was a constant reminder of what had happened to me. It felt sooooo good to get away from it and to come back feeling good about "home" again!

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