"Even though the treatment worked and I'm cancer-free, I worry a lot about getting sick again."—Linda, 63
"You expect that after getting through chemotherapy, you can put it behind you and move on. I just wanted things to go back to normal. Some things did go back to how they were. But it's hard, because I feel like something in me is different, and I'm not sure how to deal with it."—Jack, 71
"Cancer changed everything. My body is different and I have scars from surgery, and I'm still trying to get used to that. I'm eating healthier and really taking care of myself now. I also started focusing more on the things that really matter to me. I have a new sense of purpose."—Rosa, 54
Making sense of it all
Surviving cancer is something to celebrate. But many people find the time after treatment is different than what they expected. It may be difficult to make sense of how cancer has affected and changed you.
Some of the changes may be good. You may have a fresh outlook on life and feel that you've been given a second chance.
Other changes may be hard to deal with. You may have pain or scars from treatment. Some of your relationships may have changed. And even though you're well, you may still feel distress over everything you went through. Or you may worry about the cancer coming back.
This is a time of adjustment, taking care of yourself, and finding your new "normal." This stage is part of your recovery, and it may take more time than you expect.
Your new normal
Cancer changes families. It can create closer bonds, but it also can bring out difficult emotions.
Here are some things you can do to help your family adjust:
- Let them know what you can and can't handle. Even though your treatment is over, you may not have enough energy to do all the things you used to do. Let your family know that you still need their help.
- Help them understand that it takes time. Talk about how cancer has changed your family and how some things may not go back to how they were before cancer.
- Be honest with your kids. Speak openly about your cancer and recovery, and let them ask questions.
Some of your relationships may be different now too. You may have new friends because of cancer. You may have grown closer to some of the people in your life. Or maybe you feel disappointed in people you thought you could count on.
Finding your new normal after cancer takes time. Everyone who goes through cancer has a time of adjustment afterward. Be patient with yourself, and remember that there's no right or wrong way to feel.
A sense of closure
Cancer isn't something you'll ever forget, but it's important to look to the future. You could have a party or other type of celebration to mark the end of your treatment. A ritual or celebration can help you feel some closure on this phase of your life. Or you may want some quiet time alone to think about what you've been through and how to move on from cancer.
Help with moving on
Even though your treatment is over, cancer may continue to affect the way you think and feel. You may worry a lot about the cancer coming back, feel stressed about paying your bills, feel unhappy or depressed about how cancer changed your body, or feel lonely after the people in your support network go back to their regular routines.
You may just feel frustrated that you can't leave it all behind and move on. All of these feelings are normal. Everyone has different fears, emotions, and reactions after cancer.
Think about connecting with others during this stage of your recovery. Individual counselling can help you work though your fears and feelings. A cancer survivor group will connect you with people who understand what you're going through because they've been there too.
Your doctor can help you find counsellors and support groups.
Where to learn more
The following articles from the Canadian Cancer Society and the U.S. National Cancer Institute's websites may help you:
From the Canadian Cancer Society:
- "Living With Cancer: A Guide for People With Cancer and Their Caregivers," www.cancer.ca/Canada-wide/Publications/Alphabetical list of publications/Living with cancer A guide for people with cancer and their caregivers.aspx?sc_lang=en
- "Living With Advanced Cancer," www.cancer.ca/Canada-wide/Publications/Alphabetical list of publications/Living with advanced cancer.aspx?sc_lang=en
The following booklets from the U.S. National Cancer Institute's website may be helpful:
- "Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment," www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/life-after-treatment
- "Facing Forward: When Someone You Love Has Completed Cancer Treatment," www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/someone-you-love-completed-cancer-treatment
Current as of: August 22, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Catherine D. Serio PhD - Behavioral Health
Brian D. O'Brien MD - Internal Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine