Life After Cancer Stage 3a Survivor

Melissa Rieke Photography

Life After Cancer

Stage 3a Colon Cancer Survivor

I’m going to get a little real today and talk about Life After Cancer.

There is a huge community gathered around you when you are diagnosed…family, friends, doctors, strangers, nurses…lots of people.  Those people are all still there when you hear the words “YOU ARE CANCER FREE…GO LIVE YOUR LIFE”.  If only it were that simple!

Life After Colon Cancer, or any cancer, isn’t what you would expect.  As bad as you want…as much as you force yourself to see it…the Rainbows and Sunshine and Unicorns…they are hard to find!

I write this…only to let those of you NOT dealing with this to have a glimpse of what happens in our crazy heads (or at least mine).  I also write this for those of you who are finishing up treatment because I wish I had found something like this to read.  I wish I had not beat myself up…and gotten angry and frustrated with myself for the first 9 months after treatment before I decide to be KIND to myself…and let myself heal slowly!

HAPPINESS:  You just got the words “Let’s be done..Done DONE…no more treatments…GO LIVE YOUR LIFE”.  In all reality I thought I would hear “YOU ARE CANCER FREE” but I didn’t…and still haven’t…and I am not sure what to call it:  NED (no evidence of disease), Cancer Free, Cured, Remission?

Anyway…I was Happy…I cried the big ugly Julia Roberts (even her ugly cry is pretty) ugly cry of Happiness!  I danced around the treatment room..I couldn’t wait to surprise everyone with the news!  The next day I got up went to work, because usually I would be stuck in bed, just to do nothing!  I sat in the chair and thought about how wonderful it was that I was DONE.  I began planning all the things I had to do.  When I would start working out again, when I would get my business on track. How I would say “I’m giving myself until April to be 100%”, but secretly I knew I could do it by January…you know one month after I was done…ha!

Guilt:  And then pretty much immediately after I felt Guilt.  Why did I get to be done?  Why do I get to live?  Why do I not have many side effects?  Why?  I never asked WHY when I was diagnosed…but WHY ME weighed heavy on my heart when I “got” to survive.  Survivors Guilt I guess.

Fear: It’s not the first time its the second time that will get me.  I had this stuck in my head for so long.  My fear was everywhere.  I didn’t want to schedule clients out to far for FEAR it would come back and I would have to cancel again.  I feared I wouldn’t be able to do my job well again.  I feared my clients wouldn’t come back.  I feared the cancer was growing in my toes, in my ears.  Everywhere.  I still struggle with the fear…its not as intense but its there.  I find myself constantly trying to prepare things for when it comes back.

Joy: The Joy is there.  I celebrate every milestone with Joy.  Some days/moments I just feel Joy that the the Sky is soo blue and the clouds are so puffy and I am outside to see them and enjoy them.  I feel JOy for silly things like making it thru a whole day without talking about Cancer.   Or the first day I made it to 1 o’clock without once thinking about Cancer!  I was in Boston to shoot a wedding with Beth my buiness partner over at Melissa and Beth.  We had the morning to tour the city and had just been soaking it all in…and even though Beth isn’t a seafood lover (me neither but when in Rome)…she humored me and we went to the Barking Crab.  It was an outdoor restaurant right on the water…it was a joyous day.  I didn’t even think about Cancer until we sat down there to eat the the wind was blowing…and I thought..I could have never done this, experienced this…enJOYed this!

Lost:  Who am I now?  I am not who I was…but I am not different?  Who am I suppose to be now?  Which direction do I turn?

Anxiety: Wow!  I have battled Anxiety before…maybe a little but nothing much at all.  This anxiety is a whole other level.  Fear of it coming back!  Will my Clients return?  How will I pay for all of this?  I used to have 100 ideas a day…now I can’t think of anything?  Will I ever be creative again?  Maybe I never was?  Pull it together Melissa…why are you so down on yourself?

The Anxiety was unexpected and I am still struggling.  I manage it better now…if I feel it coming on strong I try to check myself…have I had enough rest?  am I taking on too much?  do I need candy ?(hey candy can help a lot)

Forgiveness: Life After Colon Cancer has made me much more forgiving.  I forgive myself more…that is when I am not in the midst of my fear, guilt and anxiety phases…I forgive myself of those.  I forgive others more…no one know how they would react in situations until you are in them.  We also don’t always know what people are going thru.  I try to feel both sides of the coin…and be more forgiving in my judgements.  I TRY…I TRY…and I try to correct myself when I am wrong and admit it…and forgive.

Lonely: Life After Colon Cancer is lonely.  Even when you live in a house with 3 kids and an awesome husband and have family all around you and wonderful friends!  It’s lonely.  I get tired of hearing myself talk about it and THINK about it…and I don’t want to put any more burden on my loved ones.  They just spent a year of their lives fighting for me too!  No one knows how you feel or what you are going thru.  Its impossible to explain.  My moods are all over the place and so is my mind so how COULD anyone possibly try to understand!  It’s lonely to be a business owner and wonder if what you are doing is good enough, do people want it, will you get more clients again, are you going to be able to pay for all of this “life” stuff, where will it come from?  It’s lonely to always wonder if that ping over there or that ache over here is something…forgive yourself Melissa its probably nothing.

In my experience with Life After Colon Cancer…the AFTER has been much harder than the during.  During treatment you are fighting it…beating it…doing something. Your mind is focused on getting it done, getting it beat….WINNING.  After it all hits you…like a truck!  It is nothing like I expected.

My hope is by sharing this I help one person, that has come thru to the other side, be kind to themselves…to let themselves heal.  It takes time….and lots of it.  Don’t push yourself…this isn’t the time!  Take care of you!

I wanted to share one of my favorite books I received as a gift when my journey started.  I am not a big reader but I LOVE quotes…so this book was the perfect gift for me! Not only is this book uplifting but it is also beautiful to look at!

I also enjoyed these two books even if I wasn’t battling the same cancers as them!  Made me think about being more involved in my treatments and finding out what was truly the best option for me.




American Cancer Society –

Colon Cancer Alliance –

Fight Colorectal Cancer –


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  • March 18, 2016 - 11:40 am

    Jenny puntenney - So beautifully written. Although our experiences are so different, much of what you feel is how I feel from the lose of my daughter. You are forever changed. You are amazing and strong and all of your feelings are ok. Lots of love and hugs from me to you!ReplyCancel

    • March 18, 2016 - 7:15 pm

      admin - Yes! I think this feeling is the same for many things…but not the same so it still feels lonely. No one can be in your shoes and imagine what you went thru and how it is never out of your mind. People don’t want to make you feel bad…but its hard to know what to say so easier to ignore it…I do the same thing and I know better. Hugs right back to you!!ReplyCancel

  • March 18, 2016 - 1:38 pm

    katie - So proud of you…for everything you survived, and for tackling the hard issues afterwards. you are someone to look up to!
    love, KReplyCancel

    • March 18, 2016 - 7:13 pm

      admin - You look up just because I am tall!! 🙂 he he he…Love you!ReplyCancel

  • March 18, 2016 - 7:07 pm

    Tracey Randell - I cried reading this, it was as if I wrote it myself and all the emotions and tears just started flowing. I’m
    Still figuring it all out as well and trying to be gentle with myself. Big hug to you 💙ReplyCancel

    • March 18, 2016 - 7:13 pm

      admin - I guess we take it day by day like we did during treatment! Then hopefully week by week…and month by month and year by year! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • March 18, 2016 - 9:07 pm

    Katie Massey - You are such a wonderful person on the inside and out. Cole, Mays and I are so lucky to have you in our lives. I’m proud of everything you have and continue to accomplish! You can count on this family taking advantage of your genius photography ideas! 💙ReplyCancel

    • March 18, 2016 - 10:00 pm

      admin - I’m lucky to have you as well!!ReplyCancel

  • December 14, 2016 - 9:48 am

    Kristie Swick - Thank you for this. I’m sitting here reading this and crying. This is exactly how I’m feeling. I feel guilty and don’t talk much about it because my family just wants to forget about it all and move on. Easier said then done. Thank you for sharing your feelingsReplyCancel

    • December 14, 2016 - 9:58 am

      admin - Big Big Hugs and Prayers Kristie. It is a progress to get thru and you MUST give yourself Grace. I am over 2 years out of my last Chemo now…and it is getting easier…but still a struggle. I recommend finding some great support group or person you can speak too. Are you in the Kansas City Area? You got this…but do give yourself a minute…take the time you need and the space you need. HUGS and PRAYERS!ReplyCancel

  • January 28, 2017 - 8:01 am

    Jill Rosenau - Thank you for sharing your heart! I was diagnosed with uterine cancer in Oct. 2016 after a year of living with horrible symptoms. I just had a radical hysterectomy with lymph node removal. When I saw my surgeon at my post-op appointment, she read off the pathology report very matter-of- factly and concluded with “no further treatment required.” The words I’d prayed for! In the days that followed, there was relief and joy, but someone said to me, “Well, you’re not really a survivor, I mean, you didn’t go through Chemo or anything.” Now the guilt, and questioning…is that true? Maybe I’m not. It’s all so new. I don’t know what to think or how to feel or respond to that. It’s a hard journey no matter what.ReplyCancel

    • January 30, 2017 - 5:05 pm

      admin - It is such a hard journey. Give yourself Grace. And don’t listen to others. You were/are a survivor the day you are diagnosed…treatment type does not matter. Reach out when you need an ear.ReplyCancel

  • February 28, 2017 - 11:42 pm

    Beth Mcpherson - This was truly amazing & yes where was this when I was diagnosed. I did not have to have treatment like most it was removed but every year when it’s time to be tested I have this flooding wave of emotions & no one truly understands then I read what you wrote & yes You understand, Blessings & Thnak youReplyCancel

    • March 1, 2017 - 7:45 am

      admin - There is a huge gap in care between the All Clear and Back to “normal” life. I don’t blame the doctors because their job is to “cure/kill” the cancer. I do wish there was a “next step” in healing though. The first year after was tough…and it is getting easier almost 3 years from diagnosis…but it still gets me down. Hugs prayers and blessings to you!ReplyCancel

  • April 4, 2017 - 1:27 pm

    Martine - Thank you for your blog. We have a lot in common. I was stage 3 as well with colon cancer. I had surgery to remove an 8-1/2 pound tumor plus a huge part of my colon, and then six months of chemo. Got my “clear” two years ago.

    I am grateful NOW for all that I went through though. Because both my brother and sister had cancer as well (different types), I am now dedicating my life to helping women survivors. We NEED that support. I sure wish I would have had it, just like you mentioned in your blog.

    Biggest love and hugs to you and your readers.ReplyCancel

    • April 4, 2017 - 1:55 pm

      admin - Thank you so much for your comment. I am going to check out your blog I would love to know more about what you are doing. I’m always trying to find others going thru the mental battle! 🙂 Hugs to you!ReplyCancel

  • August 24, 2017 - 8:01 pm

    Andrea - My daughter is fighting colon cancer 3a … having 4th treatment Monday . Hope you are doing well . Any words of encouragement are helpful. Stay well !!ReplyCancel

    • August 24, 2017 - 8:39 pm

      admin - Andrea I am so sad to hear this. I know for me the 3rd treatment was very hard and treatment 4 and 5 weren’t so bad. 6 was bad…and then it kinda leveled out. I did get my dosage lowered after the 3rd treatment though so maybe that helped. She’s got this…let the meds do the work. Tell her that is ok to have help but to keep pushing thru…and in no time she will be years away from this. I’m always up for answering questions…you can email me any time! MelissaReplyCancel

      • August 25, 2017 - 9:45 am

        Andrea - Thank you so much for replying. My daughter is 32 with a 9 month old baby . She also had 1 node so she is 3a. She was ok after round 3.. Monday is round 4. I’m so glad to hear you are well. You are the only person I know of to connect with .. having been through this. Did the neuropathy go away completely ? My daughter is fine so far, just praying she gets through all of this ok. Thank youReplyCancel

        • August 25, 2017 - 12:48 pm

          admin - Oh goodness. I can’t imagine having a tiny little one. Give her lots of help with the blagh stuff. I tell everyone to focus on the things you love…family, kids, etc. You will have time for the yuck stuff later (laundry, cooking, etc.). The biggest help for me was frequent meals brought in, house cleaning, and my aunt did my laundry each chemo week. My neuropathy did go away but it took about 9 months after treatment. It actually got worse the first few months after. Mine was mostly in my feet. My feet are more achey now…but nothing that really slows me down…could be age as I near 40! 🙂 She will get thru it…she is strong! I also had 3a with the tumor in my sigmoid colon and one node found. Prayers and Big hugs!ReplyCancel

          • August 25, 2017 - 7:58 pm

            Andrea - Thank you. I’m glad you are doing well and I’ll keep in touch . 😊

  • January 8, 2018 - 9:05 pm

    Andrea susser - My daughter finished her final 12 th folfox last week. Can’t belief it’s done. I want you to know I came back many times to read your blog. It has helped a lot. I pray you are fine and enjoying life. My daughter is returning to normalcy, I pray forever! Thank you again .ReplyCancel

    • January 8, 2018 - 9:10 pm

      admin - I’m so glad it is over!! Give her lots of grace…it takes time to heal both physically and especially mentally! Hugs and prayers for your family!ReplyCancel

  • March 7, 2019 - 8:21 am

    Wear The Blue | March Is Colon Cancer Survivor Awareness Month - […] Find out more about Colon Cancer and the Symptoms here. […]ReplyCancel

  • January 24, 2020 - 9:57 am

    Angie - This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear right now. I feel everything you are talking about. I just made it through my 3rd round of breast cancer. The last 5 years have been hell and I’m so anxious about moving on. I also just lost my aunt to brain cancer 2 weeks ago so the guilt is unreal. Nobody could ever understand unless they go through it. I saved this article to read over and over. I have had a rough start but I feel it will get better with time. Thank you for reaching out with this message. I needed it more then you know. Hugs to you kn your journey.ReplyCancel

    • February 26, 2020 - 11:08 am

      admin - Angie I’m so sorry to hear about your Aunt. Be sure to reach out and not bottle in the feelings. I have noticed lately there are so many online/phone therapy options. I have seriously considering trying them out. Even when you are heathly its good to have a place to talk out those survivor feelings. Prayers to you.ReplyCancel