Six months after beginning chemotherapy, I was ushered to go back to work. Despite a half-year hiatus, I felt unready to deal with the real world. My mental health tremendously declined after completing treatment; you always hear about how things will be better once you complete them, but nothing can prepare you for the changes and uncertainty you face once treatment is over.
Although I begged my oncologist for some more time off (at least a month for me to settle in with my new therapist), she declined and said I was “perfectly healthy and ready to go back to work.” According to her, my scans had been clear, and the symptoms I had from chemotherapy were minimal and not enough for her to give me any more time off. Coming from a culture that values and respects medical expertise, I did not argue with her. All I remember thinking was, “I wish you could see a scan of my brain’s emotional health so you can see the turmoil that this whole experience has left behind.”
Upon returning to work, my fears were confirmed: I was not the same person I was six months ago, and my body showed it. I’d finish the workday feeling exhausted and in need of a nap, despite the fact I was working from home. Working in social services is taxing, and dealing with other people’s challenges as well as my own left me emotionally drained at the end of the day. As time went on, I continued feeling more and more burnt out. Eventually, I acknowledged that I would have to be my own advocate and dig myself out of the deep hole that cancer had put me in.
Education and support helped me cope with my cancer diagnosis. I sought out local support groups and made friends with folks who had been through the cancer journey and could relate to some of what I was going through. Social media resources such as Stupid Cancer and The Cancer Patient have helped me further by addressing the issues AYA cancer survivors go through. I have even been able to create some connections through these resources. Reading and doing research has also been a catalyst for my recovery: I read books about cancer and its effects on the body and mind. I read books on trauma and learned about how trauma changes the brain. I found that this helped me cope with all my issues.
I have never been a fan of the belief that cancer “taught me” anything or that it made me a better person in any way. However, cancer did remind me of how resilient I am. At the beginning of my journey, I could not fathom getting through it in one piece. Although I’m still recovering from it one year later, I am confident that one day it will only be a memory.
By : Sarahi Hernandez Rico