Life After Treatment - What to Expect
In some ways, moving from active treatment to survivorship is one of the most complex aspects of the cancer experience because it is different for every person. After treatment ends, cancer survivors often describe feelings ranging from relief to fear. Some survivors say they appreciate life more and have gained a greater acceptance of themselves. At the same time, other survivors become anxious about their health and uncertain of how to cope with life after treatment, especially when frequent visits to the doctor stop.
During treatment, people feel actively involved in their care, and the relationships they develop with their health care team provide a sense of support and security. After finishing treatment, the safety net of regular, frequent contact with the health care team ends. Survivors often miss this source of support, especially because new anxieties and challenges may surface at this time, such as physical problems, emotional challenges, fertility concerns, financial issues, and workplace discrimination.
Ways To Cope
Living with uncertainty is never easy, so it’s important to remind yourself that fear and anxiety are normal parts of survivorship. Worrying about the cancer coming back is usually most intense the first year after treatment, but it generally gets better over time. Here are a few ideas to help as you cope with the fear of recurrence.
Talk with your doctor
Although it’s difficult to think about, every survivor needs to prepare themselves for the possibility that the cancer might come back. However, there is also no need to worry yourself unnecessarily. That is why getting accurate information about the risk of recurrence for your type and stage of cancer is extremely important. In general, most cancers have a predictable pattern of recurrence. No one can predict exactly what will happen in the future, but a health care professional familiar with your medical history can give you information about the chance the cancer might come back and what symptoms to look for. Keeping up with a regular schedule of follow-up visits can also provide a sense of control.
Recognize your emotions
Many people try to hide or ignore “negative” feelings like fear and anxiety. However, ignoring them only allows them to intensify and become more overwhelming. It often helps to talk about your fears and feelings with a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional. Or you can try writing down your thoughts in a journal or a blog or on social media. Talking and thinking about your concerns can help you explore the issues that underlie your fear. This might include the fear of having to repeat cancer treatment, losing control over your life, or facing death.
Take care of yourself
Healthy habits like eating nutritious meals, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep help people feel better both physically and emotionally. You may also feel like you have more control over your health if you choose to avoid unhealthy habits, like smoking and excessive drinking, that have been linked to an increased risk of cancer recurrence.
Finding ways to manage your stress will help lower your overall level of anxiety. Try different ways of reducing stress to find out what works best for you. This could include spending time with family and friends, rediscovering old hobbies, doing activities you enjoy, taking a walk, meditating, enjoying a bath, exercising, or laughing at a funny book or movie. Despite your best efforts to cope, you might find yourself overwhelmed by fear or anxiety. If this occurs, talk with your doctor or nurse and consider a referral for counseling.
RCC’s Wellness for Life program has classes that can help you deal with the different emotions you might be feeling.
Information from American Society of Clinical Oncology.