What about life AFTER cancer treatment?

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I was a superficial airhead before I got cancer.

I had no meaning in my life. To me, meaning was a £500 designer bag or a VIP party.  All I cared about was what I looked like and where I went partying. I didn’t care about much else, I was self-consumed and acted like the world revolved around me.

Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2013. I went to the doctor with a hangover from a party the night before; a party where I wore a sexy corset displaying my fabulous cleavage, and wore my long curly hair wild and free. A week or so later, I had my left breast cut off and not long after that I shaved my head so I wouldn’t have to watch my hair fall out in clumps.

The life I knew vanished in an instant. The me I knew vanished even quicker. One minute she was there, then she got diagnosed with cancer and she was gone.

The funny thing is, I was okay.  It was like I went numb, I switched into survival mode and just did whatever I had to do in order not to die. That’s what humans do when facing a life or death situation like cancer: we switch into survival mode and do whatever has to be done to stay alive. 

If you’re getting chased by a bear, you wouldn’t pause for a few minutes to think about how the situation was making you feel. No…you’d run for your life! And it’s the same with cancer. I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself, I just got on with the treatment, determined to make it to the other side.

I did make it to the other side. The treatment ended and the doctor told me to go back out there and continue living my life.

But that’s when the problems started.

The doctor didn’t prepare or warn me about what came next. 

I thought that was the end of my cancer journey, that I could go back to where I left off just as she had suggested. But it wasn’t the end of the journey, in fact it didn’t take long for me to realise that the cancer treatment wasn’t even the hardest part of my cancer experience. The hardest part for me is what came next, what no one warned me about, or prepared for, life AFTER cancer treatment.

There’s hardly any support out there for the next part of the journey, the part where you have to integrate yourself back into your life again. It hardly even gets talked about. But what about when all the feelings you’d numbed during treatment suddenly come bubbling up to the surface and explode all over you? What about the fact that you get diagnosed as one person but by the time the treatment is over you feel like somebody else? What about the identity crisis, the loss of a sense of self, the physical after-effects of treatment, the side effects of medication, and the constant fear of the cancer coming back?

Where’s the guidance, space and support for all that?

The treatment finishes, we survive, and everyone just assumes we skip merrily back into our lives with gratitude and a spring in our step.

And yes, I did have so much gratitude, but there was no spring in my step.

I looked at my reflection post treatment and hated what I saw looking back at me.

The reflection felt more of a ‘what’ than a who.

I looked for the old me everywhere but I couldn’t find her… and that superficial airhead party girl Saskia? She wasn’t me anymore.

I felt lost, confused and so damn alone. I didn’t want to burden friends and family when the past two years had already been all about me. So I kept quiet and suffered in silence. I wasted almost three years of life trying to get back to a life that no longer existed, looking for the old me that was no longer there.

What followed was a journey into myself, digging deep, discovering who I was now after the hell I’d been through. I started venturing down a new path, exploring all things that would help me love myself back to life. And as I did, I started to realise the cancer had torn me down to my very core, stole every layer of me and left me bare, with nothing. But this meant that I could start all over again, which was an absolute gift. 

Cancer gave me a second chance to be me; a me I wanted to be, a me I loved and could be proud of and most importantly a me that was truly happy. Cancer was my re-education of what real beauty looks like, what self-love is, what real happiness means and what life is really about.

And now I feel even more beautiful than that crazy rock n roll chick with her fabulous cleavage and long wild hair; because the beauty I have now isn’t just on the surface, it’s so much more than skin deep. The beauty I have now comes from the deepest part of me and radiates out onto everything.

And that’s why I wrote my new book The Cancer Misfit; for those of you out there that feel broken, lost or alone after cancer treatment like I did. I share everything I learned and everything I did to completely transform my life and become the happiest version of myself I have ever known.

I want you to know that if you’re struggling with life AFTER treatment (whether your treatment was last week, last month or years ago) there is nothing wrong with you for feeling that way. You’re just a Cancer Misfit like me, and I’m hoping you can move on and live the greatest chapter of your life so far… just like I am.

By Saskia Lightstar