Counting the days, hours and minutes until your last chemotherapy treatment can be a mixture of emotions—but not all of them celebratory. All through your treatment, you've been proactively attacking the cancer. You know that the medicines are definitely taking effect because you may have lost hair on your head (or elsewhere!), experienced nausea and vomiting, or dealt with other unpleasant side effects.
It's not unusual for some patients to feel worried when they stop the treatment. They worry that they haven't done enough chemo or that the drugs only caused side effects but did nothing to the cancer cells.
Some patients may have gone so far as to plan a party to celebrate their finished treatment but suddenly decide not to, out of fear it will jinx them into having the cancer return. You may also find yourself doing an inventory of your body, noting any ache or pain you have and questioning if it is the cancer growing back.
- Celebrate. Completion of chemotherapy treatment is worth celebrating. You can have a big party or just a cupcake in private, but acknowledge this completion of a monumental task in some way.
- Anticipate. Adjust to the fact that you will not be seeing your medical oncologist as often as you were during your chemotherapy treatments. You've been accustomed to seeing him or her weekly or every other week and now the oncologist will say: "come back in three months for your next visit." That can seem a bit scary to you. Attending a support group to be with others experiencing the same sense of anxiety due to less intensive monitoring by the oncology team could be helpful.
- Focus on your body. Get your body tuned up again—eat healthy, exercise regularly and keep your glass have full rather than half empty. It can take weeks or months for your blood counts to return to normal range.
- Say thank you. Take the time to thank everyone who has helped you through your treatment.
- Prepare for hair! Get ready for your hair to return, but slowly, so anticipate it taking 4-5 months to have two inches on your head.
- Educate yourself. Begin educating yourself about the next treatment (if more is planned) so that you are ready and prepared to embark on it—this could be radiation or hormonal therapy or targeted biologic treatments.
- Talk with your boss. Let him or her know when you will be returning to work and request to ease back into work rather than trying to hit the ground running. Unless you have been able to work throughout your chemotherapy treatments, you will find that you are fatigued at first and perhaps even a bit disoriented.
Most importantly, remember that you have done this treatment so that you can live a long, and hopefully healthy, life going forward—either cancer free or with cancer in control. It's an incredible accomplishment. So smile at the person who you see in the bathroom mirror who is bald, puffy, and tired. This person has been through a lot—and can now hopefully move forward into survivorship.