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Information central for parenting with breast cancer.

Getting Through Treatment & Recovery

Recovering From Treatment

Unexpected Feelings

Many breast cancer patients expect to feel elated, relieved, energized, and grateful when their treatment comes to an end. Some women may also feel anxiety, guilt, grief, confusion, fear, anger, exhaustion, and sadness. Here are some of the unexpected thoughts women often have after finishing treatment:

Anxiety

  • I worry that my husband is going to get sick.
  • I don’t have the security of seeing my doctors regularly.
  • I keep waiting for something terrible to happen.
  • I can’t face all of the things I put off while I was sick.

Guilt

  • I should be happy and grateful, but I’m not.
  • I should be spending time with my kids, but I just want to be alone.
  • I should be working harder at the office, but I just don’t have the drive.

Grief

  • I miss the relationship I had with my husband before I got sick.
  • I miss my old body.
  • I still can’t get over losing my breasts.

Confusion

  • Everyone around me is excited that treatment is over, but I feel sad.
  • I’m not sure if and how I can go back to being the mom I used to be.
  • I think people expect me to be a crusader against breast cancer, but I don’t want anything to do with it.
  • I don’t know if I want the same life I had before I got sick.

Fear

  • I’m afraid that my cancer will come back.
  • I’m afraid that side effects from treatment won’t go away.

Anger

  • I feel like my life is ruined and nothing will ever be the same.
  • Why did this have to happen to me?
  • I worked so hard to get into shape before I got sick, and now I have to start all over.
  • I thought things would be easier now that I’m finished with treatment.

Sadness

  • I’m going to miss the people who took care of me while I was sick.
  • I don’t enjoy my job like I used to.
  • I really miss reading books, but I can’t seem to concentrate.
  • I don’t feel like celebrating the end of chemo because I just feel sad.

Your children may also have some unexpected feelings. Here are some of the thoughts your kids might have about life after treatment ends:

Sadness

  • I should be happy because my mom is finished with chemo, but I’m still really sad.
  • I thought my mom would be able to do more things with me. I think she just doesn’t want to be with me anymore.

Anger

  • I can’t stand my mom telling me what to do because I did fine while she was sick.
  • My mom is finished with treatment, but she still expects me to do everything around the house.
  • I feel like my friends dumped me while my mom was sick and now I’m all alone.

Resentment

  • My parents are treating me like a baby when I was responsible for taking care of everything while my mom was sick.
  • I got used to doing pretty much whatever I felt like doing while my mom was sick. Now everything is going to change.

Confusion

  • I’m not sure how to act around my mom anymore.
  • I don’t know why I feel so sad when everyone around me wants to celebrate the end of my mom’s treatment.
  • I feel like I’m a bad person because I’m not happy for my mom.

Fear

  • I’m afraid my mom’s cancer will come back.
  • I’m afraid my dad is going to get sick.
  • I’m afraid I’m going to get cancer.

Disappointment

  • My mom is so weak. She still can’t do anything with me.
  • I thought everything would be better now that my mom is finished with treatment.

Embarrassment

  • Having a bald mom didn’t bother me because she never went anywhere. Now I’m embarrassed because she feels better and wants to go places with me.
  • I can’t believe my mom stopped covering her head. Doesn’t she know she’s still practically bald?

Anxiety

  • I feel like something terrible is about to happen.
  • My mom still looks really bad. I think something else might be wrong with her.
  • I’m worried that my mom is going to hurt herself because she seems so weak.

Expectations Following Treatment

Many families have high expectations for life immediately following breast cancer treatment. Often these expectations are unrealistic. By managing your expectations, you can help yourself-and your children-have an easier transition when treatment ends. Here are a few common expectations and some suggestions for how to manage them.

Expectation #1: We should feel like celebrating when treatment finally ends.

Mom’s Expectations:

Breast cancer treatment is difficult, and most women can hardly wait for that final day of chemo or that last radiation treatment. So why don’t more women feel like celebrating?

First, battling breast cancer is as much a mental fight as it is a physical one. Having your final treatment does not bring closure to the emotional aspect of your fight. The shift from “sick person” to “normal person” doesn’t happen instantaneously.

Second, many women put their lives (or at least parts of their lives) on hold during treatment. When treatment ends, facing “the real world” of finances, work, and relationships is daunting. Some women miss the clarity and simplicity of being sick.

Third, change is difficult. Breast cancer patients become accustomed to the rhythm and routine of treatment. They know exactly what they are supposed to do and when. Normal life is more chaotic and uncertain, and this can be disturbing.

Children’s Expectations:

Like their moms, children are often ambivalent about the end of treatment. First, they have already gone through a tremendous amount of change. The end of treatment means they’ll be facing even more change. Second, their relationships with their mothers are different. For several months they have relied on Dad for homework help, a neighbor for rides to school, Grandma for meals, and their friends for talking over problems. It takes time to adjust to their mom’s increasing physical and emotional availability.

Expectation #2: The relationships within our family should be the way they used to be.

Mom’s Expectations:

Breast cancer may bring some families closer as everyone rallies around the mom. In other families, the mom (and perhaps other family members) turn inward, becoming somewhat disconnected from each other. They develop a bunker mentality where it’s every man for himself. Moms may be surprised when treatment ends and they find themselves resurfacing from the bunker. They may be overwhelmed by the chasm that’s developed between themselves and the rest of the family. It takes time to re-establish connections and to get to know each other again.

Sometimes moms want to go back to the exact same relationship they had with their children before their diagnosis. This is often unrealistic. For better or worse, the family isn’t the same as it was before treatment. Children may become more independent and resilient, and they may not want the exact same relationship they had before treatment. Even when moms recognize that relationships have changed, they still need time to get their bearings and feel their way through the new ways of relating to their children.

Children’s Expectations:

Adolescents may be resentful if mom wants to pick up exactly where she left off prior to her diagnosis. They may have changed during treatment, becoming more independent, responsible, compassionate, and mature. If mom doesn’t recognize this and wants to put them back in their old roles, the kids are not going to be happy. The kids may be thinking, “I’m not the same person I was before you got cancer. Why are you treating me as if I am?”

Kids may be angry, feeling as if they were deserted by their mothers. Some kids may have closed down a bit and don’t feel as trusting. They may not be ready to open up again immediately after treatment ends.

Expectation #3: Mom should be in better physical condition by now.

Mom’s Expectations:

Breast cancer treatment is usually destructive. Many women are left with weakness, fatigue, limited mobility, reduced mental and physical stamina, and pain. While most of the damage improves or goes away completely, it can take time. Some women require additional services like psycho- or physical therapy. This can be discouraging, disappointing, and frustrating.

Children’s Expectations:

Some children may not be very understanding of their mother’s physical limitations. They may be thinking, “I’ve been patient, waiting for you to get through your treatment. But you’re still not doing what I need-and want-you to do.”

Kids may have false beliefs about their mother’s inability to jump right back into their old physical activities. Kids may believe their mom lacks interest in them, isn’t trying hard enough, or doesn’t care about them anymore.

Expectation #4: My family’s relationships with our extended family, our friends, and our community should be back to normal.

Mom’s Expectations:

When women finish treatment, they may seem a bit shell-shocked. They may have been physically and socially isolated during treatment. When they resurface, they realize that the rest of the world has continued on without them. The lives of their friends and family may seem like a carousel that has kept turning. It’s not always easy to hop right back on.

Also, other people may continue thinking of you as sick, even though you have finished treatment. They may not ask you to serve on committees or work on specific projects or join social activities because they think you’re not up to it.

Children’s Expectations:

Children may be ready for life to return to normal, but other kids and adults in their lives may be stuck in the sick mode. People may continue to feel uncomfortable around your kids and not know what to say or do. They may have many questions but don’t know how to ask them, like whether you are going to survive, whether the treatment worked, and what your current condition is.

Your kids’ friends and their parents may assume that your children are not readily available for play dates or other activities. Teachers and coaches may continue to give your kids a break, not asking as much of them as they would have had you not been sick.

On the other hand, some kids find that everyone acts like life is back to normal, only they don’t feel that way themselves. Kids may have a sense of unreality. It may seem like a bit of a charade to act like nothing has happened.

Managing Expectations

Here are a few suggestions for helping your family manage expectations for recovery:

  1. Acknowledge unrealistic expectations. Your family will benefit from simply acknowledging the potential inaccuracy of expectations after treatment ends. Life doesn’t become instantaneously normal when treatment ends.
  2. Be patient. While it’s a lot to ask of the family, everyone must continue to be patient after treatment ends. You may need to rediscover each other and take time to work out a “new” normal.
  3. Be open-minded. Recognize that members of your family may have changed during treatment. Don’t make assumptions or expect things to be just the way they were before breast cancer.
  4. Keep communicating. You and your kids should work to keep lines of communication open. It’s the only way you’ll discover what each other is thinking and whether or not expectations are being met. Tell your children what you’re thinking and ask that they do the same.
  5. Get help. You may want to seek counseling if you or your children are still struggling a couple of months after treatment ends. You might also benefit from therapy to help your physical recovery. Ask your doctor about physical therapy and occupational therapy. You might also consider working with a personal trainer who can help speed up your recovery and motivate you as well.

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