Regaining Your Strength After Chemo: Your Complete Guide

A woman laughing

by Catherine, January 12, 2024

Overcoming the hurdles of chemotherapy and discovering a resilient new you

Life after chemotherapy is not the end of the battle. It’s the beginning of a new journey—a journey toward reclaiming your physical, mental, and spiritual strength.

This article is dedicated to you: the brave women who have looked cancer in the face and declared, ‘I’m stronger.’

Now it’s time to make that declaration a reality.

EMBRACE YOUR JOURNEY

You are not alone on this road to recovery. Millions of women survive cancer every year, many of whom are thriving. They’ve successfully navigated the waters you’re about to traverse, and so can you!

Acknowledge Your Strength

Acknowledge your inner warrior. As a cancer survivor, you’ve displayed tremendous strength and you might not even realize it. You have gone through more than many people go through in their entire lifetimes, and you’re still here to tell the story.

Strength isn’t just about physical vigor—it’s about mental and emotional resilience, as well. 

Cancer survivorship can reshape your identity, emboldening you and instilling a sense of courage that empowers you to face the challenges that lie ahead.

Having walked the fire, you are more resilient than ever. And research suggests that your newfound resilience is a key component of mental health and wellbeing. 

Dr. Dennis Charney, a resilience researcher and Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, identified ten characteristics of resilient people, which include a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the capacity to see failure as a form of helpful feedback.

Sounds like a cancer survivor, right?

Challenge The Norm

In a world where we are often told what we can and cannot do, it’s essential to challenge the norm. 

As cancer survivors, we get to disprove the misconceptions about life after cancer and break free from the boxes our society puts us in.

Think you can’t regain your strength after chemo? Studies say otherwise!

A 2019 research article published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology showed that patients who engaged in physical activity post-treatment experienced improved physical function and quality of life.

Don’t let conventional views limit your potential. Surround yourself with success stories and let them inspire you. 

Empower yourself with knowledge and find out all you can about post-cancer recovery. Make use of resources like the National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Survivorship, where you can access a wealth of information tailored to survivors like you.

And if you feel held back, take my new quiz to learn exactly what’s stopping you from living your best life.

Remember: every survivor’s journey is unique. You create your own narrative of recovery… And every step forward is a testament to your incredible resilience and tenacity.

PHYSICAL STRENGTH: REBUILD AND REGENERATE

You have survived the storm. Now, it’s time to rebuild, starting with the most tangible aspect of recovery—your physical strength.

Establish a Regular Exercise Routine

In the post-chemo journey, one unexpected ally is exercise. While fatigue might make it seem counterintuitive, multiple studies, including a 2018 meta-analysis in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship, have shown that exercise can significantly reduce cancer-related fatigue and improve physical functioning.

When I had cancer, I remember feeling tired and drained. But one thing that gradually built up my strength was incorporating exercise into my routine. 

Initially, moving may seem daunting, and that’s okay. 

Aim to gradually incorporate light activities like walking, stretching, or yoga into your daily routine. Seek guidance from a physiotherapist or a fitness instructor experienced in cancer recovery; they can provide a customized routine that accommodates your current strength and gradually increases intensity so you can get stronger without risking injuries.

For example, you might start with low-impact exercises such as swimming or water aerobics, which are easy on your joints but effectively build strength and endurance.

A woman on a mat practicing yoga

A study published by the ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal in 2019 demonstrated that low-to-moderate intensity workouts can help cancer survivors manage symptoms and improve their quality of life.

The benefits of exercise are not solely confined to the physical realm, but deeply intertwined with emotional well-being as well.

Choose the Right Diet

Maintaining a healthy diet is an essential part of recovery. As a food science engineer, I was lucky enough to know what type of diet best supported my body through every stage of the cancer journey: from diagnosis to after recovery.

And even though I didn’t undergo chemo myself, I’ve used the same diet types to help women who have… And they thrived under them!

The role of nutrition in your recovery cannot be overstated. Chemotherapy often brings about a shift in dietary habits. It’s essential to rebuild these in consultation with an expert, focusing on nutrient-rich, wholesome foods that can replenish your body and aid in your recovery.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, survivors should focus on plant-based foods that are high in antioxidants and fiber such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods are packed with essential nutrients that support the body’s healing process.

A plate full of fresh fruits

Rest Is Equally Important

One of the most important yet often overlooked aspects of recovery is rest. 

A 2013 study in Psycho-Oncology highlights the link between better sleep quality and improved physical and emotional well-being in breast cancer survivors.

When I was recovering, there were days when fatigue took over. I learned to listen to my body and prioritize rest, understanding it was a key part of healing.

Give yourself permission to rest when you need it. Embrace a sleep schedule, invest in a comfortable sleeping environment, and consider practices like mindfulness or light yoga to improve sleep quality.

The journey towards healing is a marathon, not a sprint. Just as important as the periods of activity are the moments of rest. 

EMOTIONAL AND MENTAL STRENGTH

Tending to your emotional and mental strength is just as vital as rebuilding your physical strength. It’s about unearthing your inner peace, regaining your mental stamina, and carving out a space for emotional healing.

Express Your Feelings

Holding in your emotions can feel like you’re carrying a heavy burden. Bottling up emotions can amplify them, and by releasing them, you make room for peace and positivity. It can be an incredibly liberating and therapeutic experience.

Whether through writing in a journal, talking with a friend, or painting, expressing emotions can be a powerful healing tool. You might find a creative outlet liberating.

Or, if you’re comfortable, you can do what I did… Share your journey publicly to not only help yourself but also inspire and comfort others going through similar experiences.

Catherine Schopfer, holistic cancer coach, speaking to the audience

This changed my life for the better and it helped me see that I was not alone in my struggles.

You might also consider joining a support group where you can share experiences and feelings with people who’ve been in your shoes.

Practice Mindfulness

A 2017 study on Cancer suggests that mindfulness can help decrease anxiety and depression and improve the quality of life among cancer patients.

When I had cancer, my thoughts would often race ahead to the future or loop back to the past. This put me in a very negative, fearful state that was worse for my mental and physical health.

Mindfulness—living in the present—became a staple in my life post-cancer. It taught me to focus on the present moment instead of worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.

Being able to rid myself of fear and anxiety was key to achieving the resilient mindset I needed to really thrive as a cancer survivor.

Practicing mindfulness can be as simple as meditating for a few minutes each day, focusing on your breath, or taking a moment to really savor a meal or a walk outside. 

There are many resources available to get started on the mindfulness path, including my resource library with over 12 free tools.

Remember, it’s not about achieving a state of eternal calm or mastering a technique. It’s about establishing a compassionate relationship with your mind, learning to live in the present, and finding peace amidst the noise.

Seek Professional Help

Catheirne Schopfer in a 1-1 coaching with a client

If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed, know that you’re not alone.

It’s perfectly normal to feel a whirlwind of emotions, from relief and happiness to fear and anxiety about the future. And it’s okay to seek help!

According to the American Psychological Association, one in three cancer survivors experiences psychological distress. Therapists, coaches, and counselors are trained to help you navigate these feelings.

Chemo can trigger long-lasting emotional effects and the mental struggle sometimes unseen. There’s immense strength in acknowledging this and seeking professional help.

SPIRITUAL STRENGTH

The journey of recovery isn’t just about rebuilding the physical and psychological aspects of yourself, it’s also about reconnecting with your essence at a deeper, more spiritual level.

Find Your Spiritual Path

In the aftermath of my battle with cancer, finding my spiritual path was essential in my journey toward wholeness. It gave me a sense of purpose and hope that gave me the strength to move forward.

Your spiritual path could be anything that brings you inner peace and a deeper understanding of life. It could be connected to a religious faith, or it could be found in nature, meditation, or the arts.

The point is to seek out what fulfills you and gives your life meaning so you can take the first steps into a whole new life.

Nurture Your Relationships

When I survived cancer, I found a lot of support in my relationships. While nobody in my life had gone through the same as me, investing my time and energy in deepening those connections gave me a safe space where I could express my feelings without judgment.

But nurturing relationships also means setting healthy boundaries. It’s important to communicate your needs to your loved ones, and it’s perfectly okay to ask for space when you need it. 

The American Cancer Society stresses the significance of good communication in maintaining and strengthening relationships post-treatment.

Two women laughing

Share With Experts

There’s a certain solace in sharing your journey with those who’ve walked the same path. Your loved ones will always be there to support you in the best way that they can, but talking to a specialist or finding a support group will be your best shot at feeling completely understood.

A specialist, like a cancer coach, will share practical advice and insights about dealing with cancer and its aftermath that can be tremendously valuable for you.

If they have gone through cancer too, they will know exactly what you feel like, sharing a special connection with you that can be incredibly uplifting once the threat of cancer is gone.

Remember, seeking support isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a step towards regaining your strength and embracing life post-chemotherapy.

LIFE AFTER CHEMO: EMBRACE THE NEW YOU

Life after chemo may be daunting and uncertain, but it’s also an opportunity to redefine yourself! 

This is a time of rekindling your passions, planning for the future, and fostering an abundance of self-love and acceptance.

Discover Your Passions

Cancer may have put your life on hold, but it’s now time to press play. 

One of the most important things I did to regain strength after cancer was taking the Passion Test by Janet Attwood. This helped me clearly see which things mattered most to me, and what direction to take after living such a life-changing experience.

Learning about my passions and how to pursue them completely changed my life! It helped me become the person I always should have been.

If you’re unsure where to start digging into your passions, check out my free eBook: The 5 Keys to Overcoming and Preventing Cancer, where I dive into this.

Plan For the Future

After overcoming cancer, the future seemed like an intimidating concept. I had put it on hold for quite a while. But, slowly, I started to plan and dream again.

Instead of getting overwhelmed by what you didn’t do while you were battling cancer, use this as an opportunity to set new goals and milestones.

Your plans don’t have to be grand. They could be as simple as arranging a meet-up with old friends or planning a family dinner. The goal is to create a vision for your future that motivates you and keeps you moving forward.

Practice Self Love and Acceptance

Above all, embracing life after chemo means practicing self-love and acceptance.

When I looked in the mirror post-chemo, I saw a different version of myself. It was a journey to accept and love this new reflection, but once I did, my life became easier and I felt much stronger inside out.

Embrace your body with its changes, honor your emotional resilience, and take pride in your mental strength.

Remember, each scar, wrinkle, or change is a testament to your strength and survival. They’re the chapters of your story, and each one is filled with courage and resilience. 

Life after chemo isn’t about returning to the person you once were, but about embracing the person you’ve become: a survivor, a warrior, brimming with strength and resilience. 

This is your journey, and each step forward is a celebration of life, courage, and survival.

Portrait of Catherine Schopfer, online cancer coaching specialist

Cancer taught me many things. But above all, it taught me that rebuilding your strength is a journey, one that requires patience, persistence, and self-compassion. 

By taking steady steps towards restoring physical vitality, you pave the way for overall recovery, reinvigorating not just your body, but also your spirit.

Ready to get over cancer in the best possible way?

Find out the 5 secrets to overcome and prevent cancer with my new eBook.

Catherine Schopfer's Avatar

catherine schopfer.

Catherine Schopfer defies outdated narratives around cancer that don’t serve anyone.

Instead, she offers a fresh perspective: cancer can be the springboard to your best life… If you learn the lessons that it’s here to teach you.

Through 1:1 coaching and support groups, Catherine guides cancer patients, survivors, and caretakers through a difficult time so they can emerge on the other side embracing life like never before.

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