Cancer is often described as a journey that starts at diagnosis. During treatment, some people feel that their life is on hold. After treatment ends, it may be hard to know how to resume normal activities. This can be described as being in limbo.
Survivors may expect life to return to what it was like before the cancer diagnosis. For many people, though, it isn’t that simple. The reality is often more emotionally and physically complex. Some cancer survivors find they can’t or don’t want to go back to how life was before their treatment.
Finding a “˜new normal’
Many survivors say that cancer changes them. After treatment, they may feel different, even though they look the same. With time, survivors often find a new way of living. Many call this a “˜new normal’. It may take months or years to find a “˜new normal’.
Misconceptions about treatment ending
- I should be celebrating.
- I should feel well.
- I should be the person I was before cancer.
- I should not need support.
- I should feel grateful.
I was looking forward to the treatment ending, so why do I have mixed feelings now?
It’s common for people to feel both excited and anxious when treatment ends. Many say they need time to stop and reflect on what has happened before they can think about the future. This process may mean they re-evaluate and change their values, goals, priorities and outlook on life.
- Many survivors feel a sense of loss for “the person I once was”, “the way things used to be”, and “the things I used to do”.
- Some feel they should be happy and full of wisdom because they survived, but instead feel guilty that this isn’t the case.
- Some people feel as though they have fought a battle and need time to rest. Others want to return immediately to their previous life.
How you feel and cope will depend on the type of cancer and treatment you had, and what you’re like as a person.
Any long-term side effects from your treatment will also play a big part. Many cancer survivors have ongoing health concerns because of the cancer or due to treatment. These may include fatigue, difficulty sleeping, pain and depression. The after-effects of treatment can make everyday life difficult.
My family and friends think my cancer experience is over. Why do I feel like it isn’t?
Your family and friends care for you and it’s natural for them to want the distress of cancer to be behind you. They may not fully understand what you’ve been through, and might not realise that the cancer experience doesn’t necessarily stop when treatment ends.
It may be helpful to allow yourself time to adjust to these changes, and to explain to your friends and family that you need their support.
- Many people find there are positive aspects to having cancer. Some even refer to the disease as a life-changing experience.
- Cancer may cause you to re-examine your life choices, and may motivate you to travel, take up new activities or make lifestyle changes (e.g. starting exercise or quitting smoking). This shift is often gradual, as even positive change can take getting used to.
- After treatment, some people want to help improve the cancer experience for others through advocacy or volunteer work.
What if I don’t want to make changes after cancer?
Some people are happy with the way things were before the cancer diagnosis. This is okay; you don’t have to feel pressured to make life changes if you don’t want to.
- Assess your life. You may want to ask yourself: Am I doing what fulfils me? Am I doing what I’ve always wanted to do? What is important to me?
- Focus on each day and expect both good and bad days.
- Do things at your own pace. Avoid pressure to make decisions or start new activities straight away. Plan rest time between activities.
- If you feel apprehensive about going out for the first time, ask someone you love and trust to come along.
- Be prepared for mixed reactions from family and friends. If people don’t know how to react, try not to get upset. Some people avoid contact because cancer brings up difficult emotions. They are dealing with it in their own way.
- Share your feelings and worries with family and friends.
- Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about sadness or low moods.
- Practise some form of relaxation, such as meditation, visualisation, yoga or deep breathing.
- Keep a journal. Many people find it helps to write down how they’re feeling.
- Join a support group. Speaking with other cancer survivors may help you cope and make you feel more optimistic about the future.
- Attend a survivorship program, if there is one in your area.
- Read other survivors’ stories. Learning how other people have made meaning of a cancer diagnosis may help.
- Take part in a survivors’ event, such as Relay for Life.