- Cancer Information
- Living well
- Living well after cancer
- Adjusting to life after treatment
- Understanding your feelings
Understanding your feelings
While most people adapt well over time to life after cancer treatment, many people experience ongoing fears or concerns. You may find you need a lot of support with how you’re feeling.
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Relief – You might be relieved that treatment has finished and seems to have been successful. You may welcome the chance to focus on the things you like to do.
Isolation – You may feel lost or nervous when regular appointments with your health care team reduce or stop. This can feel like losing a safety net. You may also feel lonely if your relationships have changed or people don’t understand what you’ve been through.
Fear – You may worry that the cancer will come back.
Uncertainty – You may avoid making plans for the future because you feel uncertain about your health. This is very challenging, but you can learn to manage it effectively.
Frustration – You may feel frustrated because you think your family and friends expect too much from you. Or you may feel discouraged because you can’t do the things you want to do.
Hopeful – You may feel hopeful about the future, and happy to be getting back to your regular routine.
Survivor guilt – You may feel guilty or question why you survived cancer when others didn’t. This can be confronting.
Anxiety – You may be anxious before follow-up appointments and feel these appointments “bring it all back”. Waiting for test results can also be an anxious time.
Worry – You may be concerned about treatment side effects: how long they’ll last and whether they’ll affect your life. Many survivors are worried about their finances or being a burden to their family. Other survivors worry about returning to work and dealing with questions from colleagues.
Lack of confidence – You may feel differently about your body and health. You may not trust your body and think it has let you down. You may not be physically able to do some of the things you did before treatment. Or you may worry about the impact on your ability to remember things and process information. Many people feel vulnerable and self-conscious about their body image and sexuality.
Heightened emotions – You may become tearful or emotional very quickly, particularly when someone asks how you are. It is normal to feel like this.
Anger – You may be angry about your cancer experience and how it has affected your life.
Delayed emotions – You may find your emotions catch up with you now that treatment is over. Many people do not expect negative emotions once their treatment ends and find this confusing.
Acknowledging how you are feeling may help you to work through your emotions. Try to develop a sense of your personal coping style (the things that work best for you). Remembering how you have coped with difficult situations in the past may give you some clues about helpful ways to cope with your emotions. Most cancer survivors find that they do feel better over time.
Friends and family may advise you to “think positively”. It is almost impossible to be positive all the time; everyone has good and bad days, before and after a cancer diagnosis. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that positive thinking has any impact on surviving cancer. However, many survivors say that feeling hopeful helped them to cope with their illness and make positive changes, such as doing more exercise or improving their diet.
Prof Michael Jefford, Medical Oncologist and Director, Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Lucy Bailey, Nurse Counsellor, Cancer Council Queensland; Philip Bullas, Consumer; Dr Kate Gunn, Clinical Psychologist and Senior Research Fellow, Department of Rural Health, University of South Australia, SA; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Prof David Joske, Clinical Haematologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and Clinical Professor of Medicine, The University of Western Australia, WA; Kim Kerin-Ayres, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cancer Survivorship, Concord Hospital, NSW; Sally Littlewood, Physiotherapist, Seymour Health, VIC; Georgina Lohse, Social Worker, GV Health,VIC; Melanie Moore, Exercise Physiologist and Clinical Supervisor, University of Canberra Cancer Wellness Clinic, ACT; June Savva, Senior Clinician Dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics, Monash Cancer Centre, Monash Health, VIC; Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko, Specialist General Practitioner and Research Fellow, University of New South Wales, NSW; Prof Janette Vardy, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre and Professor of Cancer Medicine, The University of Sydney, NSW; Lyndell Wills, Consumer.
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