Editors' note: Nicholle Anderson, the wife of Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson, will write a blog each Wednesday in November for NHL.com to help mark Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Month.
Anderson was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a rare form of throat cancer, last October, and on May 25 was declared cancer-free.
She is serving as a Hockey Fights Cancer Ambassador. Here is her first final entry.
Life goes on after treatment, and once the phrase cancer-free is spoken, everyone assumes life goes back to normal. Unfortunately, this isn't true.
Cancer survivors live with side effects. Even though survivors appear to be tough and strong, they live with daily struggles that are often unseen. After having several conversations with survivors or cancer patients, we learn to complain less and to appreciate life in a whole other way. It can be misleading allowing people to think our life is normal, but that is not the case at all.
The type of cancer and treatment determines the side effects. The majority of survivors battle the daily struggle of exhaustion. Imagine feeling great one minute and suddenly feeling like you hit a brick wall the next. The level of exhaustion makes you feel as if you ran a marathon when actually you made breakfast, took a shower and drove to the grocery store. The daily chores one could do before treatment become a struggle after treatment.
I remember pushing myself through days to be "normal" again. My body was so tired, yet my mind wanted more. When my body didn't want to cooperate with my mind, I became very frustrated. I had to learn to listen to my body. Many times people are fooled by survivors' ambition to live, not realizing daily tasks that become overwhelming. When a survivor says they can't do it, simply understand even if it is a year from their cleared scan. As I mentioned in prior blogs, this is where your help and presence are so important after treatment: Just a simple run to the grocery store or quick cleaning up in the kitchen truly takes another to-do item off someone's list. Even though one beats cancer, the effects last a lifetime.
This leads to another side effect of battling cancer: depression. Going through cancer is like having a black cloud over your head. The day you start treatment, one is waiting for the storm to be over. We learn to dance in the rain, but constantly are waiting for that rainbow. Besides wanting to get your life back, the one that you feel robbed of, the mental struggle will always be there. Is this truly over? One will never know. You learn to live each day to the fullest, because that is all you can do, however, some people battle post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Imagine surviving cancer, then living the rest of your life in fear. How is this even fair? This is when survivors need a support system around them. Besides family and friends, there are great mentoring groups available.
Here are some more side effects:
1. Dry mouth
3. Memory loss
4. Muscle pain
5. Permanent hair loss
6. Early menopause
7. Difficulty focusing
8. Hearing loss/tinnitus
9. Problems fighting infections
The list goes on and on depending on the cancer, type of chemotherapy, and location of radiation.
If I could give one pointer, it's don't judge a book by its cover. Survivors battle side effects daily. Even if a person looks their best, they are still struggling with the side effects from treatment. It is important for the survivors to learn how to cope with those side effects and important that everyone else understand that their lives have changed forever. It is definitely a new way of living for everyone.