Life after cancer

After diagnosis, many people focus on getting through the demands of treatment. Amongst all the appointments, treatment effects, and managing day to day life, there can be limited opportunities to process emotions or think about life after treatment.

Some people feel hopeful that once treatment is finished, life will return to its previous rhythm and sense of normalcy. Sometimes, however, this is not so easy. People may find their priorities have changed as a result of their experiences, and they may need to re-examine their goals and values. For many people, ongoing side effects and the impacts of cancer can mean creating a new normal is required.  Being prepared for some of the challenges can help you to plan for, and adjust to, life after cancer.

Many people find that adjusting to life after treatment can be emotionally difficult. There are a number of reasons for this. It can be the first time that you have had the opportunity to address the emotional impacts of a cancer diagnosis. The busyness of cancer treatment can mean that practical issues take priority. Once treatment is finished, some people find that there is more space for difficult feelings like loss, sadness, and anxiety to emerge. For some, social support can start to change at this stage, as other people may not understand that finishing treatment can also be a difficult time. Sometimes having less contact with health professionals can leave you feeling adrift. Dealing with uncertainty about the future is one of the other challenges of finishing treatment. Some events like follow-up visits and tests, new physical symptoms or learning about someone else’s diagnosis can lead to increased uncertainty.

As time goes on, most people find their concerns and frustrations about cancer and recovery become less and less pressing. In the meantime, there are things you can do to help.

Take your time: It may take some time for things to settle into a familiar routine. You will have a lot to process after your recent experiences and there may be adjustments to be made. Sometimes, you or other people may feel impatient with your recovery, but it takes time to make adjustments.

Take it easy on yourself: Remind yourself it is a normal part of recovery to experience frustration, sadness and fear from time to time.

Recognise your personal signs of stress: These might include feeling tense or irritated, difficulties getting to or staying asleep, overreacting at home or work, poor concentration and worrying thoughts. When you notice these warning signs, take action by using the strategies below. Try to experiment and learn which strategies work best for you to manage stress.

Talk through your feelings: Talking openly about what is on your mind can be a powerful way of working through your concerns. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing with your family or friends, seek out a support group or a counsellor.

Set aside quality time: Often the things you enjoy are put aside to cope with the demands of diagnosis and treatment. If you think of your well-being like a bank account, then the demands of cancer can leave you overdrawn. Doing things you enjoy will help you to replenish your account so you have more in store to cope with future challenges.

Focus on what you can control: Look over your short-term and long-term goals. Remind yourself you now have a precious opportunity to work on the things that really matter to you and make life worthwhile.

Seek support: There are many people out there who can help with your questions and concerns and provide support. Ask your doctor or call Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 to find out more about the support available.

Your life may have changed a little or it may have changed a lot however, it is never too late to make the most of your life in the here and now.