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When everyone thinks you're better ...

... but you're not.

A diagnosis of breast cancer heralds the start of a lengthy period of treatment and recovery. Much depends on the individual and the treatments needed but that period can be 6 months, 12, even 18 months or longer.

It's an unfortunate fact that surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and adjuvant therapies have side effects that are profound and can persist for a long time afterwards. Sometimes these physical effects may be permanent: localised discomfort and pain, reduced mobility, and fatigue are common, as is 'brain fog' and a loss of sensory and cognitive function.

As time goes by, many of the outward, physical effects diminish. Hair grows back, energy levels improve, we look better, seem healthier. Those around us - family, friends, work colleagues, acquaintances - think, 'She's doing so well! She must be over it now.'

In reality, we may be floundering in a wash of emotional anxiety that is frightening and new to us, high intensity with ebbs and flows that take us up and down, still needing that support we received in the early days of our diagnosis because we are often stuck in that wash cycle, unable to move forward or back, only round and round.  

But other lives move on, there's more of the 'scratch-the-surface' 'How are you?' where the expected reply is, 'Doing good now' ... and that's the one we tend to deliver. 

Because to say how we're really feeling, 18 months on, would come as a surprise, probably an unwelcome one, a response that is unexpected as you stand in the checkout at the supermarket because that's where you see those people most often now, the ones who used to phone or drop by with a treat when you were down after a chemo session. 

Please don't get me wrong here. I'm not meaning to criticise because it's a natural assumption to see someone who's had cancer, has finished treatments, is looking well, is out and about, and is, we assume, 'getting back into life', no longer needing the day to day support so people move back into their own lives.

However please don't forget that the woman who's had breast cancer cannot return to her life as it was. For her, the world has shifted on its axis. Just because she looks fine doesn't mean she is. She still needs you.

Instead of the quick 'How are you?' in the checkout line, try, 'Tell me. How are you really?' 

From guest blogger Jane Bissell

Jane Bissell is an Auckland writer  (author of Welcome to the Amazon Club) and regular blogger.