When you were a cancer patient, you probably relied on others out of sheer necessity. If you received chemotherapy or radiation treatments, they may have left you feeling too ill and exhausted to drive, cook, clean, or do much of anything. If you had surgery, you probably needed help with even the most basic tasks while you were recovering. One of the most difficult things for many cancer patients to come to terms with is having to relinquish their independence during treatment.
Especially if your cancer treatment lasted for a long time, you may have become accustomed to other people doing things for you. Now you are a cancer survivor. Your cancer is in remission, you may have been cleared by your oncology team to resume many of the tasks you’ve been relying on others to do for you. This can be exciting, but also perhaps a bit scary as you regain strength and start to test your physical limits.
Here are five tips to help ease into regaining your independence.
1. Be patient with yourself.
Even if you cannot wait to jump back into your former routine, your body needs time to adjust to and adapt to increasing levels of physical activity. Even seemingly simple things like grocery shopping or cooking a meal for yourself require exertion. In the beginning, choose one task to tackle so you’re more likely to succeed and feel confident in your abilities. For example, heading to the store can mean long walks that can easily tire a recent cancer survivor; however, you can take advantage of grocery delivery or pick up services that allow you to choose your items online and have them ready for pick up or delivered to your door. This gives you control over your meal planning and perhaps even meal preparation.
2. Create a schedule.
If you make a list of things you want or need to accomplish, you can prioritize them and make sure you’re not trying to bite off more than you can chew. Although you’ve probably been anxious to get the green light to do more for yourself, resist the urge to try to fit everything in a day that you did prior to cancer treatment. Make sure to schedule periods of downtime and rest so your body can recover between tasks.
3. Participate in oncology rehabilitation.
Oncology rehabilitation specialists specialize in helping cancer survivors achieve improved physical function after completing treatment. Rehabilitation exercises are chosen based on any specific physical challenges you may be facing as a result of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. If your oncologist hasn’t recommended this, you can ask about it a referral to a physical therapy program. Some even specialize in cancer patients or survivors.
4. Maintain your social support system.
Regaining your independence involves doing more for yourself and relying less on others. However, that definitely does not mean you can’t continue to lean on your friends, loved ones, and cancer care team for emotional support. Surround yourself with those who are cheering you on and will celebrate your accomplishments. They’re vested in your well-being and want to continue to know how you’re doing.
Compass Oncology offers a Cancer Survivorship program for cancer survivors in and around Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA areas.
5. Become comfortable with your new normal.
Life as a cancer survivor will probably not be identical to life before cancer. You may experience long-term side effects and lingering pain. And, life after cancer may involve new adaptive equipment such as a prosthetic, walker, or wheelchair. Part of your journey involves coping with your changing body after your cancer treatment ends.
When you’re scheduling your time, make sure to factor in these things:
Will you need to allow extra time to load or unload a wheelchair?
Will you need to always have access to a place to rest when your pain flares up?
If you’re returning to work, will you need to first request special accommodations from your employer?
Every survivor’s situation is different, so take inventory of the new challenges you face so you can plan accordingly.
Eventually, doing things for yourself will become second nature, just as it was before you were diagnosed with cancer. However, don’t expect to go from 0 to 60 overnight. Instead, set out to make slow, steady progress. And, don’t hesitate to reach out for help and reassurance if you become frustrated. At Compass Oncology, we have a staff of oncology social workers available to serve as a sounding board and to provide specific tips and advice for whatever obstacles you may struggle to overcome.