Life after treatment
For most people, the cancer experience doesn’t end on the last day of treatment. Life after cancer treatment can present its own challenges. You may have mixed feelings when treatment ends, and worry that every ache and pain means the cancer is coming back.
It is important to allow yourself time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes, and establish a new daily routine at your own pace. Your family and friends may also need time to adjust.
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Finding a new normal
When treatment ends, you may see the diagnosis as an opportunity to make changes to your life. This process is commonly called finding a new normal. This shift is often gradual; even positive change can take time. You may:
- change the way you talk about yourself
- have a different perspective on life and seek out new experiences
- feel motivated to set up a support group for members of your community
- want to be more open about your sexual orientation and gender
- feel confronted by changes to your body
- place more value on spending time with family and friends and choose to focus on the more meaningful relationships in your life
- reconsider your career goals and work values.
It may help to share how you’re feeling with your family and friends, your doctor, a psychologist or counsellor.
For more on this, see Living well after cancer.
After treatment is finished, you will have regular appointments with your cancer specialists, cancer nurse or GP to monitor your health, manage any long-term side effects from treatment, and check that the cancer hasn’t come back or spread.
Many cancer survivors say they feel worried before routine check-ups. Check-ups may feel easier once you’ve been to a few and things are going well. In the meantime, finding ways to cope with your anxiety before check-ups may help. Learning mindfulness and meditation skills, or practising deep breathing, can help you manage stress and anxiety.
Some treatment side effects can have a long-term impact and it may take time to adjust. Your treatment team should identify any emotional and physical needs you have for follow-up care and work with you to develop a plan to manage them. Your GP or specialist can refer you to a range of allied health professionals to help you manage some of the side effects of treatment and improve your quality of life. For example, you may see a psychologist to help you manage anxiety, a physiotherapist to help regain movement, or a sexual therapist for help dealing with the impact of sexual changes.
Having to disclose personal details again and establish a relationship of trust with new health professionals can be stressful, but it is worth the effort and can help you return to your usual day-to-day activities.
Whether organised screening programs are appropriate for you after treatment will depend on the type of cancer treatment you had. For more information, talk to your GP or cancer care specialist.
Podcast: Living Well with Advanced Cancer
The information on this page is also available for download.
We thank the chief investigators from the Out with Cancer research project: Prof Jane Ussher, Prof Janette Perz, Prof Martha Hickey, Prof Suzanne Chambers, Prof Gary Dowsett, Prof Ian Davis, Prof Katherine Boydell, Prof Kerry Robinson and Dr Chloe Parton. Partner investigators were Dr Fiona McDonald and A/Prof Antoinette Anazodo. Research Associates were Dr Rosalie Power, Dr Kimberley Allison and Dr Alexandra J. Hawkey.
We thank the reviewers of our LGBTQI+ People and Cancer booklet: Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Heath Psychology and Chief Investigator, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; ACON; Dr Kimberley Allison, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Dr Katherine Allsopp, Supportive and Palliative Care Specialist, Westmead Hospital, NSW; A/Prof Antoinette Anazodo OAM, Paediatric and Adolescent Oncologist, Sydney Children’s Hospital, NSW; Megan Bathgate, Consumer; Gregory Bock, Clinical Nurse Consultant–Oncology Coordinator, Urology Cancer Nurse Coordination Service, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, WA; Morgan Carpenter, Executive Director, Intersex Human Rights Australia (formerly OII Australia); Prof Lorraine Chantrill, Medical Co-Director Cancer Services, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; A/Prof Ada Cheung, Endocrinologist, Head, Trans Health Research Group, Department of Medicine (Austin Health), The University of Melbourne, VIC; Bonney Corbin, Australian Women’s Health Network; Cristyn Davies, Research Fellow, Specialty of Child and Adolescent Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney and Children’s Hospital Westmead Clinical School, NSW; Prof Ian Davis, Professor of Medicine, Monash University and Eastern Health, Medical Oncologist, Eastern Health, Chair, ANZUP Cancer Trials Group, VIC; Rebecca Dominguez, President, Bisexual Alliance Victoria; Liz Duck-Chong, Projects Coordinator, TransHub and Trans Health Equity, ACON, NSW; Lauren Giordano, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Hall & Wilcox (law firm); Natalie Halse, BCNA Consumer Representative; Jem Hensley, Consumer; Prof Martha Hickey, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, The University of Melbourne, and Director of the Gynaecology Research Centre, The Women’s Hospital, VIC; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker – Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Laura Kirsten, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW; Amber Loomis, Policy and Research Coordinator, LGBTIQ+ Health Australia; Julie McCrossin and Melissa Gibson, Consumers; Dr Fiona McDonald, Research Manager, Canteen, NSW; Dr Gary Morrison, Shine a Light (LGBTQIA+ Cancer Support Group); Penelope Murphy, Cancer Council NSW Liaison, Prince of Wales Hospital, NSW; Dr Rosalie Power, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Jan Priaulx, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Paul Scott-Williams, Consumer; Simone Sheridan, Sexual Health Nurse Consultant, Sexual Health Services, Austin Health, VIC; Cheryl Waller and Rhonda Beach, Consumers.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.