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WHAT MY ONCOLOGIST DIDN’T TELL ME ABOUT LIFE AFTER CANCER TREATMENTS


As of September, I only have to see my oncologist after a year. Not every three weeks or every three months as how it has been since June 2014, the time when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37.


My last mammogram was also clean. Along with my full body PET scan that showed no traces of the dreaded c.

I should be celebrating. I should be going on with my previous life. Instead here I am trying to put to words the confusion and the struggle that I grapple with everyday. I didn’t know that the period after cancer treatment can be difficult. For the past few months my entire being was on survival mode and now that the treatments are finally over I find myself besieged with a dilemma that no one prepared me for, not even my oncologist.


Naturally, I was given the pep talk on the things that would most likely manifest after chemo such as “chemo brain” and the fluctuation of energy. What I didn’t know was along with these are the constant thoughts, reflections and un-learning of old ways of doing things. There is no going back to the previous life. My life is forever changed by breast cancer and now here I am redesigning my life and finding a “new normal”.

What I hoped to share with this is a glimpse of this stage in my life. A stage that I am learning to embrace and shed some light on for it isn’t easy and the only way I know how to sift through the confusion and the difficulty is to write them as openly as I could.

These are what my oncologist failed to tell me and how I wish someone had prepared me for…


DREAMING CAN BE DIFFICULT. In one of the activities in Michelle Holmes Visibility Challenge, she posed a powerful question on “which reality would you choose for yourself?” and I was stumped.

As I reflected on that question, I was faced with a string of other questions “what am I going to do with my life?”, “where do I want to put my energy into?”, “what do I want to breathe life into?”, “what would make all these ( and by these meaning all that I have gone through with the treatments and all) worth it?”

There is this urgency in me to make meaning out of the events that happened. An urgency that keeps me asking “how can I move forward with all the things that I have learned along the way?” Things like being present, connecting to people who matters, sifting through activities and eliminating those that did not serve my healing. All crucial insights and they did not come easily but most came after heavy period in the treatments or after re-evaluation of what I needed most.

At one end of the spectrum there is this feeling of hope and in the other end there is this great sense of being practical- that I have to be grounded to the now, to this moment because this is all I have. So how can one journey back to dreaming when the thought of the future can sometimes be so fuzzy and at the same time the pull to be grounded to the now is strong?


THE EBB AND FLOW OF ENERGY CAN BE CONFRONTING The lack of energy or the fluctuations in energy can be daunting to one who has lived most of her life as a multi-tasker and a constant doer. I was pre-programmed like that. Society demanded it from me (and expects it still) to be productive. I was constantly told that women are great multi-taskers and that is the role I took in. I grew up in a culture that cheered on achievements and that it is a prerogative to have lists that are filled in and ticked day in and day out.

I was never taught “to be” and to embrace that stillness of being. I was never given the tools to keep my mind clear and to be single-minded. I have been trained all my life to juggle a lot of roles, to fill in different places and to carry different trains of thoughts.

I was never asked to connect with myself. To take as much effort in planning in periods of rest as I have planned for periods of productivity. Nor was I taught that stillness is a powerful tool both literally and figuratively. It was only when I was forced into slowness with all the medical procedures that I realized how much haste and pressure I placed upon myself. It still is difficult to take off that pressure. It still is difficult to keep still. It still is difficult to embrace the slowness.

But I am trying.


GIVING COMPASSION TO ONE’S SELF IS A SKILL I AM LEARNING THE HARD WAY I never knew how hard I can be to myself until I was bed ridden after chemo and was still inundated with thoughts of “oh how much of a bother I am to my husband”. I never knew that my head will still be filled with “what would other people think?” when I was sporting a shaved head or when I had to slip out of dinner conversations to lie down on the sofa to rest. I heard myself being judgmental in the meanest way when I ask myself “what are you doing with your life?”, a question I dare not even ask somebody else but expect it highly for myself.


I voiced out these constant questions and judgments of myself in the support group from Leonie Dawson’s Business and Life Academy. Surrounded by healers, spirit workers and life coaches I was reminded of why cultivating self-compassion is the best gift that I can give to myself. I was reminded that I didn’t have to know the answers to my questions. And that I am rewarded with an opportunity to explore and find myself. To conceive something before breathing life into it. It’s time that I acknowledge the hard work I went through the past few months and celebrate that I am here. I am present. I am alive.


What my oncologist didn’t tell me was I have to dig deep on loving myself, to continue with the work I started on being my own best friend, and to have faith that even though I have so many questions, everything falls into place in the end.
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