Life after treatment for vulvar cancer
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.
It will take some time to recover from the physical and emotional changes caused by treatment for vulvar cancer. Treatment side effects can vary – some women experience many side effects, while others have few. Side effects may last from a few weeks to a few months or, in some cases, years or permanently. This section explains ways to manage the discomfort that side effects may cause.
Learn more about:
- Vulvar changes
- Vaginal changes
- Bladder and bowel issues
- Impact on sexuality
- Follow-up appointments
- Dealing with feelings of sadness
- Effect on your emotions
- Looking after yourself
After treatment ends, you will have regular appointments to monitor your health, manage any long-term side effects and check that the cancer hasn’t come back or spread. During these check-ups, you will usually have a physical examination and you may have blood tests, x-rays or scans. You will also be able to discuss how you’re feeling and mention any concerns you may have.
When a follow-up appointment or test is approaching, many people find that they think more about the cancer and may feel anxious. Talk to your treatment team or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 if you are finding it hard to manage this anxiety.
For the first few years, you will probably have a check-up every three months. Women who have had surgery may have additional follow-up appointments with their surgeon. Check-ups will become less frequent if you have no further problems. Between follow-up appointments, let your doctor know immediately of any symptoms or health problems.
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.
Most women feel shocked and upset about having cancer in one of the most intimate and private areas of their body.
It is normal to experience a wide variety of emotions, including anger, fear and resentment. These feelings may become stronger over time as you learn to cope with the physical side effects of radiation therapy, surgery or chemotherapy. Everyone has their own ways of coping with their emotions. Some people find it helpful to talk to friends or family, while others seek professional help from a specialist nurse or counsellor. Others prefer to keep their feelings to themselves.
There is no right or wrong way to cope. It is important to give yourself, and your partner, family and friends, time to deal with the emotions that cancer can cause. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for help and support.
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 during cancer treatment and Living well after cancer.
Prof Jonathan Carter, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, and Professor of Gynaecological Oncology, The University of Sydney, NSW; Ellen Barlow, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Gynaecological Cancer Centre, The Royal Hospital for Women, NSW; Dr Dani Bullen, Clinical Psychologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Wendy Cram, Consumer; Dr Tiffany Daly, Senior Radiation Oncologist, Radiation Oncology Princess Alexandra Raymond Terrace (ROPART), South Brisbane, QLD; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Westmead Centre for Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Anya Traill, Head of Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.