Understanding your feelings
While most people adapt well over time to life after treatment, many people experience ongoing fears or concerns. You may find you need a lot of support – maybe even more than you did when you were diagnosed or during treatment.
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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 other things, such as your usual activities.
Isolation – Many people feel less secure when regular appointments with their 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 of the cancer coming back – Fear of recurrence is common. Most survivors learn to manage this fear.
Uncertainty – Many survivors are reluctant to plan for the future because they feel uncertain about their health. This is very challenging, but you can learn to manage it effectively.
Frustration – Some people feel frustrated because they think their family and friends expect too much from them. Others feel frustrated because they can’t do the things they want to do.
Survivor guilt – Some people feel guilty or question why they survived their cancer when others didn’t. This can be confronting.
Anxiety about follow-ups – Many people feel anxious before follow-up appointments and may feel these appointments “bring it all back”. Waiting for test results can also be a very 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 financial pressures 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 feel it has let you down. Or you may not be physically able to do some of the things you did before treatment. Many people feel vulnerable and self-conscious about their body image and sexuality.
Feeling down/depressed – You may feel sad or down about your cancer experience and its impact on your life.
Heightened emotions – You may become tearful and emotional very quickly, particularly when someone asks how you are. This is very normal, but it can be embarrassing for some people.
Anger – You may feel 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. It is common for people with cancer to feel quite distressed at some point in their cancer experience. 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.
Dr Haryana Dhillon, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Medical Psychology & Evidence-based Decision-making, School of Psychology, University of Sydney, NSW; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Jessica Barbon, Dietitian, Southern Adelaide Health Network, SA; Dr Anna Burger, Liaison Psychiatrist and Senior Staff Specialist, Psycho-oncology Clinic, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, ACT; Elizabeth Dillon, Social Worker, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Prof Paul Glare, Chair in Pain Medicineand Director, Pain Management Research Institute, University of Sydney, NSW; Nico le Kinnane, Nurse Coordinator, Gynaecology Services, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Amanda Piper, Manager, Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Kyle Smith, Exercise Medicine Research Institute, Edith Cowan University, WA; Aaron Tan, Consumer; Dr Kate Webber, Medical Oncologist and Research Director, National Centre for Cancer Survivorship, NSW. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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Life after cancer treatment
Programs and support for people who have finished treatment
Cancer Council Online Community
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ENRICH – a free healthy lifestyle program
A face-to-face exercise and nutrition program for cancer survivors