You Survived Cancer! What Now?

3 simple steps towards thriving as a survivor.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

You’ve made it through one of the biggest challenges of your life, it threatened your very survival, made you question everything you knew about yourself and life itself, yet here you are. If you feel lost, confused and a little bit disenchanted by life, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

There’s a common trend among people I’ve spoken to who have survived cancer, we all agree that chemotherapy sucks! Ain’t that the truth, but it’s not the point of this article. The trend is that many of us have a really difficult time after finishing treatment and returning to everyday life. Unless you were extremely lucky, there’s no guidance or structure to being a survivor.

Walking the line between life and death is no small thing, you’ve just gone through a massive ordeal turning your life inside and out to heal from this nasty disease. Going in and out of hospital, lots of medications, doctors, chemotherapy, radiation and potential surgery depending on your protocol. Feeling sick, losing your hair, brain fog, aches and pains, blood transfusions, infections, adverse side effects and all other complications. Then there’s managing the concerns of your family, friends and community, or lack of. From the first test to confirm diagnosis until receiving the news that you’re in remission, there are too many things to mention them all. It’s a massive journey and as you know, many people don’t make it to this point. Then you get told that you’re in remission and that treatment is over.

A new chapter begins.

In the days, weeks and months following, there’s an interesting mix of experiences and emotions that all happen at the same time.

  • Elation and relief that comes from being out of the acute danger/treatment phase.
  • Fear and uncertainty around the possibility of the cancer coming back and other long term side effects of treatment.
  • Excitement and nervousness about returning to school, university, work or socialising with friends that you haven’t seen for a while.
  • Confusion and frustration with some things being more difficult than before and struggling to reconcile why your experience of life is different.
  • Anger at the periods of time that were lost while you were sick, while the outside world seemed to continue like nothing happened.
  • Guilt of not feeling joyful and grateful to be alive, you know that many others don’t make it to this point and so you question why did you survive and they didn’t?

That’s just a start, there’s so much more going on than anyone around you can understand.

To top it all off there are comments from people around you about how you look so normal, you must be feeling so much better and healthier now. In actual fact, nothings normal. You feel like an alien that’s landed here from a distant galaxy, while you understand the language and recognise the people, there’s a system error, “something does not compute”…

You attempt to be an active participant in life, try to do all the things you used to do and enjoy but for some reason, that you can’t quite put your finger on, everything’s different. It’s as if you’re walking up a steep hill, that you’re not quite sure you want to walk up, you’re out of breath before you even begin and you’ve forgotten how to move your legs. Okay, maybe that was a little dramatic but some of you will understand what I’m saying.

During treatment, you have a support team of doctors, nurses and other people for moral support, there’s a protocol for almost every possible scenario. If you have a team you trust, you don’t have to personally think about what to do, you just have to keep moving forward. After treatment finishes, that support team of doctors and nurses who have been in your corner for months or years, as well as the protocol, vanishes. It can feel incredibly isolating, lonely and overwhelming as you’re left to figure out how to live as a cancer survivor.

It sounds weird but during the time you’re being treated, your role in the world is very clear. You’re a cancer patient and your job is to kill the cancer. Everyone rallies around you to help you with that job and afterwards it can seem like it’s all up to you. Not only are you processing that experience, at the same time you’re trying to live a healthy, fulfilling life and find your place in the world.

Navigating your way through being a survivor is not an exact science, in fact there will be as many different opinions out there as there are people who’ve survived cancer. I can’t and won’t tell you that I have the answer that will, 100%, without a doubt, work for you. One key that is relevant to anyone is to do your best not to get stuck in overwhelm, which includes the black hole of unlimited information on the internet. Take tiny steps forward, focus on the life you want to life and how you want to feel.

Surviving cancer is an achievement to be acknowledged and celebrated, but it’s also just one step. The end of something is the beginning of another and the adventure of a lifetime literally opens to you the instant you are in remission.

Here are 3 simple steps you can take towards creating a thriving life post cancer:

1. Simplify life - You might be easily overwhelmed after cancer, it can be useful to learn to be gentle and kind to yourself. One important component includes reflecting on your life, in particular the components that don’t contribute to the life you want to live. Identify anything in your life that feels draining, whether it’s food, activities, behaviours or people. You don’t have any energy to spare so reduce your exposure over time as much as possible.

2. Find a guide or mentor - we are blessed and cursed in this information age, it’s so easy to find an abundance of information relevant to anything we’re interested in. Find someone who resonates with you, who is living a life that you’d love to live and invest in their book, training or mentoring program. It’s one of the most effective ways to grow, it also requires you to invest in yourself, in other words, put your money where your mouth is.

3. Hold a ceremony, create a ritual - Similar to a rite of passage, create space and time to acknowledge the life you lived pre-cancer and during cancer. The old version of you is gone, it’s time to celebrate who you were, let go and welcome who you are becoming. It can be beautiful for part of the ceremony to be by yourself and, another part with the important people in your life. Declare to yourself and them that life is different now, tell them what you’re working towards and how you want to live from this point forward. Be open to receiving support, it can be helpful to set boundaries around what kind of support you’d like to receive. Create a daily or weekly ritual where you remind yourself who you are becoming, it can include meditating, journaling, a movement practice like Yoga or Qigong and whatever else you feel inspired to include.

There’s no magic solution to anything in life, cancer is a major setback but it can also be an incredible opportunity to recreate yourself. If you’re willing to do the work, there’s no limits on what’s possible.

I’m starting a Podcast called From Struggle to Strength where I interview people who have overcome cancer and other health related challenges, to inspire people like you to think differently about the adversity you’re facing and empower you to thrive in life.

If you have a story to share or would like to book me for a Mentoring Discovery Call, click this link to get in touch: https://linktr.ee/adamkellerman

My 16th Birthday, not long after ending treatment for cancer.

Mindset and Movement. Writing about life as an Australian Paralympian, cancer survivor and Qigong student/teacher.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store