I woke up that morning and couldn’t move.
Every joint in my body was stiff, tender to the touch, incredibly swollen, and so, SO painful. What was wrong with me??
I had ended chemo treatments over a month before. You’d think I would be on the upward swing health-wise, right?
After two weeks of painful swelling, huge daily doses of ibuprofen or naproxen and sometimes Tylenol thrown in for the pain, I was DONE. (Those of you who know me personally already know I don’t take pain meds for much of anything anymore, so this was pretty out of character!)
At my next oncologist appointment, I talked with her about my frustrations. She shrugged and said, “Oh, we see this all the time. When you’re on chemo, we give you steroids to keep your immune system suppressed. Then, when treatment stops, the steroids stop, and a lot of patients have inflammation flares as their body gets used to life without steroids again.”
I could have slapped her. Why did NO ONE think to WARN me that this could happen?? I had spent the past TWO WEEKS in pain, silently FREAKING OUT that something was HORRIBLY wrong with my body all over again, seeking answers from ALL my doctors (including a call to this oncologist’s office with NO help!), and it’s just “to be expected”?! Aaaaaarrrrrrgggggg…
So, this post is to serve as a warning for all those currently taking chemo or caring for someone undergoing treatment. Here is what no one tells you about ending chemo:
1) Inflammation Flares
I talked about my experience with inflammation flares above, but I’ll elaborate a bit here.
When our bodies have poor inflammatory responses, they overreact to just about every normal thing the body should typically be able to handle. In my case, I got severe arthritis-like symptoms, but nothing in my bloodwork showed arthritis markers. My body was just freaking out over something because my immune system is shot.
Turns out, my body decided white sugar and white flour were the devil incarnate. (Which isn’t far from the truth, but giving me Hobbit feet seemed like more of an overreaction than necessary.) As long as I stayed away from sugar and flour, the pain stayed away, but my feet and ankles were still unnaturally swollen. There didn’t seem to be anything I could do about that but just wait it out.
How We Can Handle Flares
I can nearly guarantee you will have to deal with some form of an inflammation flare when coming off chemo. Apparently, that’s just to be expected. Yours may not be painful swelling, but something will likely flare up. Just be prepared.
My best suggestion is to do everything you can to support a healthy immune response. Supporting our bodies could include things like:
- Using essential oils that promote a proper inflammatory response within the body, like Frankincense (more on EOs coming next month!);
If you’re interested in learning more about Essential Oils, please contact me and grab my free Home Health Arsenal Guide (below) to help you get started.
- Following a detox protocol, like the tips I discuss in my post about Detoxing for Chemo; and
- Nourishing the body with foods that will help the gut lining heal, which helps the body better control its inflammatory response, and boosts the immune system.
I highlight my best tips for Nourishing the Body During & After Chemo here:
2) Perpetual Waiting
I think I had in the back of my mind that once I finished chemo and my scans all came back clear, I wouldn’t have to mess with the oncologist’s office anymore. I could just move forward with my gut-healing and be “done” with cancer.
Turns out, that’s not really how it works.
When I left my last appointment, I had to schedule ANOTHER scan for 2 months down the road, and another at the 5-month mark. Eventually, these scans will be further and further spread apart, but for the foreseeable future, I am forever waiting for the results of my next scan.
How We Can Live Well in the Waiting
Most days I can keep a good face, remind myself that God is in control, and my next scan will be great. Some days, it’s a lot harder to talk myself away from the fear and what ifs.
I’m still working on how best to handle this post-chemo fact-of-life. I don’t like it. I don’t WANT this to be my reality. So, it’s hard to accept it and move forward. It’s easier to just ignore it entirely. Maybe that’s the best way to handle it for now. Any tips from long-term cancer survivors out there??
3) A Continuing Fight
Back at the beginning of the year, when I was just one treatment away from being “done,” a friend suggested that we should do something special to celebrate the end of my treatment. But the LAST thing I felt like doing was celebrating anything about cancer or chemo, even its end.
Because for me, there will never actually be an END.
I created a couple of memes to describe how I was feeling at that point:
One of the most dangerous lies we can believe about cancer is that we can “beat it” and be done. It just doesn’t work like that. The recurrence rate is WAY too high to believe that traditional treatments will end cancer once and for all. They won’t.
How We Fight Well
What we CAN do is use every weapon within our personal arsenals to keep fighting. To keep HEALING our bodies in a way that our bodies will keep fighting FOR us, not against us.
If I slack off on my nutrition and go back to eating the CRAP I fed myself during chemo, my body will never start fighting for itself. I have to consume the best nutrition I can get. Food prepared in old, traditional ways that allow my body to absorb all the healing nutrients it needs.
The fight against cancer is never won until God takes me home. Until He decides my days are done, I have to CONTINUE fighting every day — both mentally and physically. That realization has been the HARDEST pill to swallow over the past year. It’s stressful to think about. And it’s not at all what I had planned for my life.
Maybe someday I’ll be so at ease in the kitchen and when preparing meal plans that the stress of healing my body from the inside out won’t be such an issue. I’m praying for that day! I would dearly love to wake up one day and realize that cancer doesn’t have a prominent place in my thought life anymore. That God has TRULY healed me and my struggle to just live a “normal” life is over because I’m THRIVING. Please, Jesus, let that day come…
The Silver Lining
I realize this seems like a pretty Debbie-Downer post, which wasn’t my intention, but it’s how things are turning out. Can you tell I’m still struggling with this area of my life? A LOT?
So, let’s find a silver lining here, shall we?
Because I am so aware that I HAVE to focus on my nutrition and making sure we are eating HEALING foods around here, my husband and daughter are both going to benefit. Their guts will heal and seal right along with mine. We will all learn the healing power of food, sunshine, and activity.
Because my daughter will grow up with a healed and healthy gut, Lord willing, she won’t have the same health issues I’ve fought all my life. She will have her own trials, I’m sure, but her health is not likely to be one of them. (At least that is my prayer EVERY. SINGLE. DAY!)
Here’s to learning how to take care of OURSELVES well, so our FAMILIES will ultimately benefit!
I’d LOVE to hear from you if you have insights on how to THRIVE while living with or surviving cancer. Please leave a comment below and let us all benefit from your encouragement!
As a former University Resident Director, Career Counselor, Certified Personality Trainer, and high school Spanish teacher, Laura has quite the “scattered” background — with one underlying theme: education! She writes to teach and inspire women on topics related to faith, family, and lifework. She is also a resume writer, specializing in resumes for moms, career changers, and new graduates.
Thank you for sharing! A friend is going through her second battle with cancer and using chemo this time (last time was radiation and surgery). This was really useful to help me understand a little bit of what she is going through.
My pleasure, Jennifer. It’s a hard thing to write about, but this is exactly why I do. I’m glad you’re able to walk with your friend through her cancer journey. We need friends who really get it! All HIS Best for both of you!
Hi Laura. Thank you for sharing. I’ve been on a health journey for about 6 monrhs. My family and other kinda think I’m “rediculas” or can go “overboard”. April 1st we found out my (step) dad of 35yrs was diagnosed with squamous cell lung cancer stage 4. It has metastasized to his liver, kidneys, brain and throughout his bones. This article was helpful in helping my mom understand my “obsession” with EO’s and trying to help get them healthy too and hopefully make this whole process a little easier for them. I will be following and reading your articles to help myself and family through this difficult time. Thank you again.
Hey, June! I’m glad to hear this article was helpful for you — that’s the whole reason I started writing about my cancer journey. I’m so sorry to hear about your stepdad. It’s never easy to hear about someone we love having to walk this road, but it sounds like they have great support from you. I’ll be praying for all of you. Please keep me posted!
Dear Laura, I have also traveled the cancer road (2017 & 18) and am a breast cancer survivor. I can identify with all your rollercoaster emotions. I am a lecturer in photography for graphic design students, but also a dance instructress for (mature 60+)women. Many of them traveled the cancer road before me. I asked them MANY A TIME, during the first 2-3 years, will I EVER wake up in the morning and NOT think AND TALK about what had happened to me? It was as if your whole existence/survival/mindset/conversations/prayer-life were tied ( and in knots?!) to the thought of never going to have normality in your thought line again. I can at last say (from my 3rd-4th year) YES! There comes a time that your gratitude overshadows your cancer thoughts. It is a miraculous breakthrough. I am very sensitive for God’s grace, care and healing touch in my physical & spiritual life, that I rejoice in every new day. I can now say I am restored to be my own self again. It is a LONG & BUMPY road, as you’ve experienced it yourself (are still experiencing?) Just keep going; there is a Light of GRACE at the end of the dark tunnel. God is GOOD ALL THE TIME, even in the TOUGH times-as you’ve experienced as well! Regards Erika
Thank you for sharing your experience and encouragement with us, Erika! I agree, it does get easier with time. I’m about 5 years out from my diagnosis now, and it definitely has been quite the rollercoaster. Some days I don’t think about it at all, and sometimes my anxiety kicks in and it’s ALL I can think about. Everyone experiences this journey differently, but I’m glad to hear you’re living in a hope and gratitude-filled place. ❤️
i am on my last round of chemo treatments…this time around i feet hurts really bad…tired a lot… but almost at the end. but like some said it is never over…all i know is am very tired
I hear that. My energy levels were low for a long time during and after treatments. Now that I’m about 5 years out, I feel like I’m finally getting somewhat back to normal in that regard. Praying your body heals quickly and you start regaining energy soon!
FINALLY someone understands! I am in so much joint pain. My feet/ankles were so swollen! I asked constantly with NO answers as to why this was happening. I got the blood work for Arthritis to see if I somehow developed RA from all the chemo. THIS has helped me so much and blessed me. I told my doc last week the inflammation has gotten so much worse. He shrugged and told me to take a Motrin…..unreal! I know that I have some inflammation happening and I’m holistic in my approach to life. So I am on to steps to alleviate the inflammation. Finally my ankles aren’t swollen anymore. Just gotta get this pain in my joints to go. Gut health is everything. I take Vital Gut renew from my local health food store and it has changed my whole digestive system. On to diet next. may God Bless you and your truth sharing! Don’t stop!
It’s so frustrating when our docs aren’t interested in helping get to the root of the problem! I’m glad this post was helpful for you. I wrote it in the midst of my own frustration with all things modern medicine in hopes that it would help others not have to feel so aggravated. And how awesome that you’ve been able to take steps to reduce the inflammation on your own! Huzzah! 🎉 I am so proud of you!! That is an incredible step forward in your healing, and I couldn’t be happier for you. Keep it up!