Leukaemia Foundation

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Returning to 'Normal'

It is usual for people with a blood or bone marrow cancer and their families to look forward to the end of treatment as a time when the hard part is over and life begins to return to normal. This is usually a time when the demands of treatment stop and hospital stays no longer separate people from their families and friends. The person diagnosed may begin to think about re-entering social, educational and employment activities.

It is now understood that very high expectations about life immediately after treatment can cause problems. Families need to be aware that this is a time of transition for all. The person recovering from their treatment experince may need considerable support and understanding as they move into this new phase of their lives.

There will be wide differences in the way individuals cope with adjusting to life after treatment. While some people feel more comfortable making sense of their experience on their own, others will appreciate sharing their thoughts and feelings with others. Many people are surprised by their need to talk about their experiences and will actively seek out opportunities to share these with others who have had a similar cancer experience.

There can be significant obstacles to communication when, for example, attempts to talk are blocked by loved ones and others who believe it is best to encourage the person to 'get over it' and 'move on'. In these situations it is not uncommon for people to experience a sense of isolation, depression and anger.

"It's as if people expect you to be really grateful (and I am) that you got over it and now they want you to really get over it and get on with your life...after a while no-one wants to talk about it anymore - that part's finished...but it's not really...not for me."

Helpful suggestions:

• Adjustment is always a gradual process so it is important to pace yourself and try to keep your expectations realistic.

• It is often useful to redefine your idea of normal. Life has changed - it is not a matter of going back to what was before but rather creating a new sense of what normal is.

• 'Timeout' to engage in enjoyable activities or to talk about non-illness issues will refresh you and your family.

• Many people report that it is important to connect with others who share a positive perspective on life and their experiences.

• It is normal, as a result of undergoing such significant experiences, to be impatient with 'trivial' talk.

• Balance is important - it is helpful for people to look at both the positive and negative aspects of life.

• There are support groups where you can talk to others who have been through similar experiences.

• Remember everyone is different - comparisons with 'how well' other people seem to cope are not always helpful.

• Humour can be useful to lighten the load at times.