How to Navigate the Bad Days

"Being told you’re in remission doesn’t flip an invisible switch that cleanses you of fear and doubt."

Everybody has bad days, but nobody tells you how to handle them when all of your days are supposed to be good.

Going through cancer has had a positive effect on my life and how I exercise self-care. Hearing messages of support from friends and family are a great boost during good days and a reminder of what I’ve been through.

But all of those comments, “you’re so brave,” or “you’re so inspiring,” offer no cushion for your bad days. The times where you feel hopeless, anxious or paranoid. When you feel angry that cancer will always be a part of your life, scared that it may come back or frustrated that side effects from treatment might never go away.

There is no guidebook on how to navigate these feelings, and they’re very confusing. Before I got sick, the antidote to a bad day usually involved a combination of friends, bad movies, chocolate and salt, no matter the cause. But after cancer, things were different.

On top of whatever emotional crisis I deal with, whether it be anger at my sickness, the inability to fit into my jeans or beating myself up for not doing a better job at work, there’s a heavy guilt that consumes me. Instead of processing my negative emotions and moving on, I’m caught up in the fact that I’m even having negative emotions at all.

All of the praise and support I received during treatment and follow-ups crumbles over me and spreads like a rash. I immediately feel like I’m doing the world a disservice; that these feelings mean I’m ungrateful to be alive.

There are two important things to remember, whether you’re a survivor or a caregiver. First, bad days should not be shamed or discouraged. It’s all part of the emotional healing process. Being told you’re in remission doesn’t flip an invisible switch that cleanses you of fear and doubt.

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You’ve gone through an incredibly complex emotional event, and that requires time to process and heal. I have three visible scars — two on my stomach and one in my belly button — but I barely notice them. It’s the emotional scarring that requires an enormous amount of self-care.

That brings me to my second piece of vital information: give yourself permission to have a bad day. There is nothing, and I repeat NOTHING, wrong with letting all of those feelings out. Let the stress release from your muscles, have a good cry. Do whatever it is you need to do to show your feelings and let them go.

I know, this all sounds like the plot of “Frozen,” but it’s so important to not suppress your feelings.

I’ve spent a large portion of my post-cancer life dealing with anxiety and going to counseling. As soon as I gave myself permission to feel imperfect and be devastated or enraged, I was able to shake off that negative energy and get a step closer to becoming the person I want to be.

My advice for a bad day? Cry. Dance. Go for a run. Eat pizza, an ice cream sundae (with fudge and whipped cream) or whatever is your comfort food. Get a cozy blanket and snuggle up with a lighthearted movie. Take a break from social media and let yourself escape. When you wake up the next morning, you’ll be ready as ever to start the next day a step closer to a better you.

Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.