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.
Some people say that they feel pressure to return to “normal life”. 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.
Cancer Council 13 11 20 can help you connect with other people who have had cancer, and provide you with information about the emotional and practical aspects of living well after cancer.
For more on this, see Living well after cancer.
Learn more about:
- Looking after yourself
- Emotions and cancer
- Dealing with feelings of sadness
- Follow-up appointments
- If cancer of the uterus returns
Cancer can cause physical and emotional strain, so it’s important to look after your wellbeing. Cancer Council has free booklets and programs to help you during and after treatment.
Call 13 11 20 to find out more, or see Managing cancer side effects, Exercise after a cancer diagnosis, Complementary therapies, Emotions and cancer, Nutrition and cancer, Sexuality, intimacy and cancer, Fertility and cancer, and Living well after cancer.
Emotions and cancer
Changes to your body can make you feel self-conscious and affect the way you feel about yourself (your self-esteem). You may feel less confident about who you are and what you can do. Try to see yourself as a whole person (body, mind and personality), instead of focusing on the parts that have changed.
It is normal to experience a wide variety of emotions after treatment, including anger, fear and resentment.
Everyone has their own ways of coping with their emotions. It is important to give yourself and those around you time to deal with the emotions that cancer can cause. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for help and support. You may also find it helpful to see the psychologist in your cancer centre about the impact of cancer on your mental health.
For more on this see Emotions and Cancer.
If you have continued feelings of sadness, have trouble getting up in the morning or have lost motivation to do things that previously gave you pleasure, you may be experiencing depression. This is quite common among people who have had cancer.
Talk to your GP, as counselling or medication – even for a short time – may help. Some people can get a Medicare rebate for sessions with a psychologist. Ask your doctor if you are eligible. Cancer Council may also run a counselling program in your area.
After treatment ends, you will have regular appointments with your specialists to monitor your health, manage any long-term side effects and check that the cancer hasn’t come back (recurred) or spread. If you have a low risk of recurrence, your follow-up care may be shared between your cancer specialist and GP, or you may be discharged to your GP with easy access back to your specialist if needed.
During check-ups, you will usually have a pelvic examination and you may have imaging scans. Follow-up appointments will start immediately after treatment, then become less frequent over time. How often you see your doctor will depend on the type and stage of the cancer.
When a follow-up appointment is approaching, many people find that they think more about the cancer and may feel anxious. If you are finding this hard to manage, talk to your doctor or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Alternative therapies are therapies used instead of conventional medical treatments. These are unlikely to be scientifically tested, may prevent successful treatment of the cancer and can be harmful. Cancer Council does not recommend the use of alternative therapies as a cancer treatment.
If cancer of the uterus returns
For some people, cancer of the uterus does come back after treatment (called a recurrence). This is why it’s important to have regular check-ups and to immediately report any symptoms (e.g. vaginal bleeding, pain in the abdomen, swelling, unexpected weight loss, unexplained cough), rather than waiting for your next follow-up appointment.
Most cancers of the uterus that come back do so in the first 2–3 years after treatment. If you have had a hysterectomy, cancer of the uterus usually comes back in the vagina or pelvic lymph nodes. It is also possible for the cancer to come back in another part of the body. If the cancer does recur, you will usually be offered further treatment to remove the cancer or help control its growth.
Podcast for people affected by cancer
A/Prof Orla McNally, Consultant Gynaecological Oncologist, Director Oncology/Dysplasia, Royal Women’s Hospital, Honorary Clinical Associate Professor, University of Melbourne, and Director of Gynaecology Tumour Stream, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, VIC; A/Prof Yoland Antill, Medical Oncologist, Peninsula Health, Parkville Familial Cancer Centre, Cabrini Health and Monash University, VIC; Grace Guerzoni, Consumer; Zeina Hayes, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Bronwyn Jennings, Gynaecology Oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Mater Hospital Brisbane, QLD; A/Prof Christopher Milross, Director of Mission and Radiation Oncologist, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Mariad O’Gorman, Clinical Psychologist, Liverpool Cancer Therapy Centre and Bankstown Cancer Centre, NSW.
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