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Life After Cancer

Advice from a Two-Time Survivor

by Elise Silverfield May

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Most people will tell you that once you’ve had cancer, you’re never really quite the same. Hearing the diagnosis has a way of putting things into perspective. You learn to value what is truly impor­tant – life.

For most of us, I don’t think the fear of recurrence ever leaves. The best I am hoping for is that it lessens over time. However, I have learned a few ways to dull that fear just a bit.

Talk about your fears.
While friends and family are great to talk to, it’s tough for people who haven’t been there to understand your fears. Other cancer survivors can relate to the worry and stress that goes along with a possible recurrence. If you don’t have a fellow cancer fighter in your circle, consider joining a support group. Write down your feelings. I started a journal when I was first diagnosed with cancer. Sometimes it’s easier to write about something than to verbal­ize it. On the tough days, I go back and read the entries. It shows me just how far I’ve come and reinforces that I am a survivor.

Light the fancy candles … eat that delicious dessert.

Keep follow-up appointments.
During treatment, you’re monitored constantly, but afterward, you’re kind of left on your own. It’s important to keep follow-up appointments so your doctor can remain abreast of your con­dition. If you do have a recurrence, your doctor will be better able to catch it early when it’s the most treatable. Having good follow-up care will also reassure you that everything is OK.

Pay attention to your body.
You know your body better than anyone else does. If something doesn’t seem right, make an appointment with your doctor. It’s better to go in and be told nothing is wrong than to wait and find something much later.

Take care of yourself.
Make healthy lifestyle choices. If you’re a smoker, stop. If you abuse alcohol, stop. Eat healthy, and exercise regu­larly. Get plenty of sleep. Give your body the best chance to fight off a recurrence.

Live every day to the fullest.
Do the things that give you pleasure. Light the fancy candles, use the decorative towels, eat that delicious dessert. Life is too short not to enjoy every single moment. As a survivor, you are strong. You’ve fought cancer and come out on the other side. Don’t let the worry of a recurrence rob you of the joy of living.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Elise Silverfield May is a Hodgkin lymphoma and colon cancer survivor who lives in Dallas, TX.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2012.