Coping With the Aftermath of Cancer

Although I’m now cancer-free, the lingering effects of my breast cancer have impacted both my financial and physical well-being.


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Marie Krejci

Cancer changes everything: your outlook on life, your career goals, and your priorities. And while cancer has taken a lot away from me, it has also given me a lot, including a desire to help other survivors going through a similar experience.

—Marie Krejci

Even now, 3 years after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I’m still struggling with how it is possible to have a normal mammogram and 6 months later be confronted with stage II estrogen/progesterone–positive, HER2-positive breast cancer. The news was especially devastating to hear because it arrived 6 weeks before my wedding, and at a time in my life when I was the happiest I have ever been. In an instant, my whole world was turned upside down, and I knew I was going to be in for the fight of my life.

Because the cancer was so aggressive, my oncologist recommended that I postpone the wedding and immediately undergo treatment: first a mastectomy, followed by a grueling chemotherapy regimen of carboplatin, trastuzumab (Herceptin), and docetaxel. Although the cancer was confined to my right breast, I also opted to have a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy.

I could see the looks of concern on the faces of my medical team and knew I had to act fast. After talking it over with my fiancé, Scott, we decided to cancel the wedding festivities, but moved up our wedding date so it wouldn’t interfere with the start of my treatment. We were married the day before my surgery.

The Cost of Cancer

My treatment was difficult. In addition to the 4½ months of chemotherapy and an additional year of trastuzumab, I underwent seven surgeries, including breast reconstruction surgeries. I was so sick most of that time, I had to take a medical leave from work. With the loss of my income, the bills began piling up, and I’m still recovering financially.

So many things about having cancer are devastating. Certainly, the immediate fear that you could lose your life is at the top of the list. But what has been the most difficult to cope with is the aftermath of cancer. I’m thrilled to say that the treatment was successful and I’m now cancer-free, but it has not been easy trying to resume the life I had before my diagnosis—and I am realizing with every day that passes, I never will have that life again.

The treatment has left me with serious cognition problems. I struggle at work to complete assignments, and my ability to multitask—a skill I was so proficient at before—is now completely gone. Complex situations that I used to handle with ease now leave me feeling bewildered and overwhelmed. In addition to my cognitive issues, I also have a lot of joint pain from anastrozole, the aromatase inhibitor I’m taking to prevent a cancer recurrence, so I also have physical limitations to contend with as well.

All of these problems have left me unable to continue my career in a full-time capacity. Having to make such a drastic change in my profession is concerning. I’ve been with the same company for 29 years and love what I do, so having to curtail my workload and relinquish some of my responsibilities has been difficult. On a more basic level, I’m worried about how reducing my work hours will affect my retirement fund and my ability to recover financially from my treatment expenses.

Survivorship Support

At times, cancer’s aftermath has also left me feeling somewhat abandoned. During treatment, I received constant direction from my medical team; now I feel like I’m on my own, and it’s a little scary. I realize there are support programs out there to help survivors transition back to their “normal” lives; however, I do not feel that patients are ever prepared enough for that transition.

Your life is anything but normal after a cancer experience. Some experiences may not be as drastic as others, but I really feel that there should be some type of counselor or social worker assigned to survivors to help them get back to their lives, particularly for patients who have had body parts removed.

Patients are given a list of resources, but in my particular case, I experienced severe anxiety and depression and was in no shape to be calling around for information. I was so secluded for almost 2 years during treatment and surgeries that I developed a social phobia—I didn’t want to go out of the house, and I couldn’t bring myself to make any phone calls. I was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. These are the aftermaths that people don’t usually hear about and for which available assistance tends to be insufficient.

Renewed Sense of Purpose

Cancer changes everything: your outlook on life, your career goals, and your priorities. And while cancer has taken a lot away from me, it has also given me a lot, including a desire to help other survivors going through a similar experience.

Cancer has also given me a renewed sense of purpose, and now I live every day to the fullest and never take anything for granted.

That’s a valuable lesson for us all. ■


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