Cancer Treatment Burnout

I know I should be incredibly happy. I was diagnosed with an aggressive, life-threatening cancer over five years ago, and I’m still here!! I’ve beaten the odds. Though I’m not cured, my doctors have so far miraculously been able to find ways to keep the nasty from doing me in. That is wonderful!!

On the other hand, I’ve been fighting this crud for over five years. As part of this marathon I can’t stop running, my treatments have included radiation, topical and oral steroids, minor and major surgery, chemotherapy, chemo-immunotherapy hybrid, immunotherapy, and transplant. I’ve been through some of the them multiple times.

Renewed Hope, Renewed Worry

With every new treatment regimen there is renewed hope and renewed worry. Hope to drive the disease into remission and worry about what the treatment will do to the rest of my body. Believe me, every treatment has ramifications for healthy cells, too!

It’s been a long, drawn out battle, and at times extremely taxing. The ups, downs, ins, outs, moments of burgeoning hope turned to utter disappointment begin to wear on a person. Constant uncertainty. Always entering a new struggle while still fighting the same frigging war.

Hitting a Wall

A few months ago, I hit a wall. Smack! Bloody nose & black eye – not physically, but mentally and emotionally.

I was suffering significant treatment-related peripheral neuropathy, working hard to recover with no guarantee of improvement, wondering what my next treatment might be (or might have in store), and hunkering down at home because I was high risk for a severe Covid-19 infection. I have to say, there wasn’t a lot in that moment for me to look forward to.

Now, I don’t consider myself a sad sack. In fact, I believe most people would describe me as leaning toward sunny side up. But in that time, I was about as unhappy as I remember being. There was no more wick to keep my little candle of hope alight. Burnout!

A Party

Having gathered all my friends – sadness, worry, anger, anxiety, frustration – I threw a party. A big old pity party.

The thing about those feelings, however, is they’re all real, honest emotions normal human beings experience. Despite all the toxic chemicals and radiation I’ve been subjected to, I AM still 100% human. No, really, I am! LOL

I must have spent a good week or so in a sorry state – moping about, just going through the motions, trying not to feel as much as possible, yet stewing in a morbid sauce of my own making. After a while, though, I grew really tired of being sad and tired. I’d swallowed all the sorry sauce I could handle, and it was time to send the negative crowd packing. Easier said than done sometimes. Right?

So, I started looking for ways to distract myself – to take my mind off things – and means to focus on the positive.

I had no control over the damage treatment did to my body or my body’s capacity to recover. I didn’t have the ability to invent a cure for my disease. I certainly had no sway over the pandemic. What then could I do? As you’ve probably guessed, journaling or writing was one of those positive distractions. There were others. I’ll explore some of them another time.

100% Human

My point here is: the treatment burnout was a normal reaction to my circumstances. My pity party was a completely natural result of the human condition. Nothing to be embarrassed or feel guilty about. No more than if I were to burp after drinking soda.

As cancer patients, we come up against some real challenges, starting with the disease itself. We can’t let negative emotions take over, but we can’t ignore them, either. For me, tamping them down and pretending they don’t exist just causes them to erupt elsewhere unexpectedly and at the most inopportune times.

I tried the tamping method early in my cancer sojourn which brought some spectacularly theatrical moments. I can laugh about them now, and they make for pretty good stories. Even so, recognizing the negative emotions, admitting to them, then putting them in their place works best for me. Is that easy? Not always. Worth it, though.

They say hope springs eternal. I don’t know if that’s true because I’ve only been around a few decades. I can attest that hope, love, joy, happiness, and many more positive emotions can be nurtured and renewed even in the face of the heaping helping of difficulty cancer patients may be forced to endure.

What about you? Have you experienced treatment burnout? Hit the wall? Had a cancer pity party?

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you find yourself stuck in the negative, there is absolutely no shame in asking for help. Oncology therapists are professionals trained to help cancer patients work through the detritus the disease often leaves in it’s wake.

7 comments

  1. Thanks AG for sharing what happens to all of us with cancer. I too turned to writing about it as I turned my retirement nature blog into a hybrid with as many or more posts about my cancer and the debilitating treatments. And after the radiation treatments I plan to publish a little photo book with all those cancer-related posts and share copies with my oncology office and radiotherapy clinic, hoping my story may help someone else in the future.

    In the meantime I’m still focused on the relaxing nature found here in Costa Rica with nature posts still on my blog and as a motivation to get through radiation, I’m focused on my next big nature photography trip to the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula and largest rainforest in Central America, Corcovado National Park and Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge!

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  2. Oh boy I am over it. I decided I would take a one night break from my treatment last night. I’m so fatigued and so anemic. It happens – the calls, appointments, scans, bloodwork, injections, exhaustion, all of it. I’m burned crispy. I feel you and I completely feel compassion for you. ❤️

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  3. I’m totally there with you! I believe that I’ve hit the wall a few times and am feeling cancer burnout right now. I also started journaling. It helped me at first, but now not so much. So I’ve decided to take short trips when I can and use that time away to relax.

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    1. Yeah, everything in it’s time. Of course, we haven’t been able to travel so long that has to be a welcome release. Looks like I’m a bit behind you and Charlie. Though I don’t have anything booked, I’ve been working on a trip plan myself. Ha! Keep your spirits up however you can.

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  4. Anjj, I too travel to not only get away and relax but to immerse myself in nature, and in my cas photographing nature. I have a trip planned for one month after radiation is finished (the docs say it takes that long to get over it) and right now the anticipation of the trip to a remote rainforest may be as helpful as the trip itself will be then! 🙂

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  5. As a long-time survivor of two run-ins with breast cancer, I’ve learned (not always gracefully) to dwell in the realm of uncertainty. None of us, neither those who have experienced life-threatening diseases nor those who have escaped them, knows what awaits us in our lives. I like to think that cancer survivors like us have an advantage. We know how unpredictable and precious good health is.

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    1. Sounds like you’ve found a healthy place emotionally along the way. That’s great! On the subject of life’s unpredictability…. Yes, that’s a lesson you can’t escape when you’re fighting the big C.

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