It was a question I got asked a lot over the first few weeks following being told I was in remission and in all honesty it was a question I didn’t really know how to answer.
I had no experience of knowing what ‘better’ looked like following a cancer illness. It was all new to me as it is to the majority of us who go through such an illness. What I can now say, is that I soon found out recovering from Cancer doesn’t quite work like recovering from a nasty dose of the Flu or a broken leg!
I remember Dr Evans saying to me that now the physical battle was behind me, accepting what I’ve been through would be my next challenge; ultimately training your mind recover from the trauma it had been through.
She was right.
Throughout my ‘physical’ cancer journey, my brain had been busy figuring out what it needed to do to pull me through, to deal with the diagnosis, treatment, recovery and side effects. It had been on a path of ‘fighting’ to give me the strength I needed.
Then, all of a sudden I was told ‘You’re in remission’ (OK not quite ‘all of a sudden’ but you know what I mean). No longer was it trying to get me through a journey where I’d been fighting the unknown. It was time for it to ‘find’ me again.
I know in the scheme of ‘cancer’ journeys mine (thankfully) was relatively quick. Circa 4 months from diagnosis through to completing treatment. However, in those 4 months my whole identity, the person I was both physically and mentally had disappeared.
The treatment alone had wiped my ‘physical’ appearance and the wider experience had challenged who I was and what was important to me going forward. James pre January 2018 had (for this moment) gone. It was time to rediscover and rebuild my life.
One of the first parts of this was ‘work’. Although I had been working (as much as physically possible) throughout my illness, it had all been done remotely. So being involved in the ‘office’ environment hadn’t taken place for some time.
Speaking with colleagues I was asked numerous time “so when are you coming back”? 23 days of chemotherapy in 12 weeks doesn’t just ‘leave’ your body and let you return to full strength. Something I’d find out they’d struggle with accepting. I did try and return to work a couple of days a week but to find I was going back to an environment that no longer seemed to ‘fit’ my mental state.
Remember me mentioning that I never got a ‘get well soon’ card or ‘visit’ from any of my senior managers (just one colleague who was also a friend). Well returning to work made me realise just how ‘unimportant’ I was to them. It was like I’d been off with a dose of the flu.
Rightly or wrongly; this ‘work’ ‘my job’ did not fit me anymore. I wasn’t the same person as I’d ‘left’ and going back wasn’t going to work for me. The time had come to make the first decision in ‘rebuilding’ my life.
Resigning was an extremely hard decision for me to make. However, one I am very pleased I did make. As the weeks that followed would make me realise.
My general ‘wellbeing’ since not having treatment continued to improve. A piece of advice I’d offer anyone who has had a batch of chemotherapy is to take time to rebuild yourself physically and mentally. Everybody’s cancer journey is different; your journey following treatment is no different. Recovery will be at the pace your body and mind needs, so please don’t try and rush it.
My physical rebuilding consisted of enjoying the summer mornings by going on steady bike rides, dog walks and some light gym work. All helping to build my stamina and general fitness back up. Gradually by stamina got stronger and my energy levels started to maintain for longer periods. As an example, around 10 weeks after treatment my wife and I went to Manchester. I managed to drive the 75 mile journey and enjoy doing some shopping in the city. It wasn’t until early evening that my body needed a rest. To put this in perspective; 7 weeks earlier we went to Chester, a car journey of a similar length but by the time we got to the hotel I needed a bit of time to rest and reboot my batteries.
Mentally, my rebuilding started with ‘talking’ talking with my wife, family and a Macmillan councillor.
Outputting my thoughts and sharing my worries and being able to ‘relive’ the thoughts with others is SO helpful and trust me, it’s such an important mechanism to help with your ‘mental’ state.
I’ll touch on this more in future posts, in the meantime if you need to talk to someone whilst on your journey, please visit the Macmillan website here. Alternatively, please speak with your support team. There is always somebody who will be able to help you.
To read more posts in time line order click here.