With the end of cancer treatment often comes a sense of relief, accomplishment and even joy in having gotten through a difficult experience. Yet for many post-treatment survivors, it is also a stressful time filled with new routines to learn, as well as mixed feelings about what they’ve just gone through. Many people also find themselves unsure of how to move forward, wondering, “Now what?”
Common Emotions Faced by Survivors
As a patient, you may have been so busy learning about your diagnosis, working with your medical team and going through treatment that you didn’t fully feel the emotional impact of your diagnosis until after you finished treatment. The fact is, the side effects of cancer and its treatment are more than physical. They are also emotional. It’s common for the end of treatment to bring a variety of complex and often conflicting feelings about their diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
For example, it is normal to feel relieved that treatment is over, yet angry or sad about having gone through such a serious illness. You may feel guilty for completing treatment when others weren’t able to do so. You may also feel anxious and fearful about the cancer coming back. It is normal, too, to feel confused about what you’ve been through and to be concerned about the future.
Family and friends can provide much comfort and support during this time. However, post-treatment survivors can feel a bit isolated from loved ones and the world around them. Loved ones might not be fully aware of all the emotional challenges that can arise for you after treatment is over.
Sometimes, these emotions can be overwhelming, interfering with your day-to-day activities and even your health.
It is important to be able to talk openly with your health care team about any emotional symptoms you are experiencing as a result of your cancer. Members of your team can provide tips for coping or refer you to other sources of support. CancerCare, for example, provides free counseling from professional oncology social workers.
The ‘New Normal’
Another concern faced by many who have completed active treatment is the realization that life after their diagnosis and treatment never really goes back to what it was before cancer. Many find they are not able to return to their old “normal” life but must adapt to a “new normal.” Understanding what your new normal is can take time. This process may involve:
- Reflecting on what you’ve been through
- Identifying changes you might want to make in your life
- Recognizing what you’ve learned and what’s changed about yourself
- Re-evaluating personal relationships or professional goals
- Discovering new ways of finding meaning and fulfillment
As part of this process, you may find it helpful to seek out the support of others who understand what you’re going through. Joining a support group for post-treatment survivors, such as those offered by CancerCare, can allow you to share with and learn from others who are facing similar issues, such as fear of recurrence, living with uncertainty, lingering side effects and going back to work.
Edited by Victoria Puzo, LCSW