A cancer diagnosis can change a person’s outlook on life, the way they interact with others, and it can also change how they live their lives in general. How do cancer survivors cope with this? How do they get back to living their lives as they were before cancer?
Even though a successful outcome of cancer treatment is a moment to celebrate, after it is over, survivors of cancer are often left with feelings of uncertainty and fear.
This blog post will provide advice that may help survivors find their new normal and deal with any anxiety or fear they might feel after going through such a major ordeal. Life after cancer is not easy, but it is worth it.
Fear of Cancer Recurrence
The fear of cancer returning is one that many survivors are left with after treatment and can be a constant thread throughout their life. Even cancer survivors who have gone years without any evidence of disease state that the fear of recurrence is always with them. Some even report that this fear is so intense they cannot sleep well, eat well, or even attend their follow-up appointments.
It is important not to let fear prevent you from leading the lifestyle you desire. Here are some things you can do to minimize those emotions:
- Talk to your health care team. Use the last few treatment sessions to ask any questions you may have about cancer recurrence, the medication that was given to you during treatment, and what your doctor will do should the disease return. Ensure you are crystal clear on the follow-up care, such as any appointments and tests you will have in the future. Formulate a specific follow-up plan based on your doctor’s recommendations, and write it down so you can refer to it if necessary.
- Stay informed. Studies suggest that people who are well-informed about their disease and treatment are more likely to take preventive actions to reduce their risk of recurrence. Knowing about the services available to you and understanding what you can do for your health right now will provide you with a greater sense of control over cancer.
- Take care of your body. Exercising is essential for cancer survivors for many reasons. It will allow you to manage stress more effectively, keep you strong, and help prevent weight gain. Eating a healthy diet with various foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources like chicken or fish, and healthy fats is another way to ensure you are doing the most you can to stay healthy. Finally, do your best to incorporate enough sleep into your daily schedule.
- Express your emotions. Do not keep everything bottled up. Whether it is a friend, a family member, or a professional counselor – find someone you trust to discuss your feelings with. Allowing yourself to feel and then talk about it will help you process your emotions more effectively. Survivors who have expressed their strong feelings of fear, anger, or sadness say it was easier to let go of them.
Because of the uprooting effect cancer has on the daily life of the patient and their loved ones, it is easy to focus entirely on that one big event. At the same time, other aspects of their lives are set aside.
Once active treatment is finished, and the survivor is expected to return to normal, all of those previous stress causes are still there—finances, house projects, work, children. For some, this could lead to a sense of being overwhelmed or even trapped by the stresses in their life.
It can be helpful to take time and prioritize what needs your attention now that you’re no longer dealing with cancer treatment. You can try any of the following methods for reducing your stress levels:
- Exercise. It is a well-known fact that at least 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity drastically reduces feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. Before you decide on an exercise plan, however, consult with your health care provider. Be careful not to overdo it, especially at the beginning.
- Relaxation techniques. Meditation and similar relaxation methods can help decrease negative feelings and anxiety. Try yoga, imagery, or even hypnosis (under the supervision of a professional).
- Creative outlets. Creative hobbies that include music, art, or writing can help let go of stress. They are great outlets for expressing your feelings and focusing on making something beautiful, regardless of your skill level. Get out your paintbrush, sketchpad, or keyboard, and let some new ideas flow!
- Support groups. Finding a support group with other cancer survivors will make it easier for you to share your feelings and concerns. Support groups are a great way to re-establish your life with new friends who have gone through the same trials you’ve been through. Hearing other people’s experiences will also help you find meaning.
Depression and Anxiety
It is completely normal to feel anxious, sad, or angry after cancer treatment with a good outcome. These common feelings may be less intense than they were when you first found out about your cancer; they might also lessen with time. For some, though, these emotions don’t go away; they become more severe.
If you are experiencing any of the following signs for more than two weeks, you should seek help from a medical professional:
- Emotional numbness
- Hopelessness or helplessness
- Moodiness or a short temper
- Sadness or worry that doesn’t go away
- Feeling overwhelmed or shaky
- Feeling unworthy or with a strong sense of guilt
- Unable to concentrate
- Crying many times a day or for prolonged periods
- Unable to get certain thoughts out of your head
- Considering harming yourself or ending your life
Mental health issues should be addressed sooner rather than later. Don’t hesitate to talk to a doctor or therapist about your feelings – they will know how to help you cope.
How Can You Find New Meaning in Your Life After Cancer?
The biggest question cancer survivors usually have is about the purpose of their ordeal. They want to find meaning in what they’ve been through. Often, this meaning can change over time.
Here is what you can try:
- Keep a journal. This is one of the most effective methods for putting your feelings into words and making sense of what you’ve been through.
- Seek spiritual support. A spiritual counselor can help you find meaning through your faith or spirituality. They might be able to help answer big life questions.
- Volunteer. Consider helping others who are going through the same experiences you did. You’ll find meaning in the act of giving and helping cancer patients deal with the burden of cancer.
- Take part in the research. Joining a research study is completely voluntary. Various studies may use you as a volunteer, especially those focused on identifying the effects of cancer and its treatment on survivors. This could benefit not only you but the society as a whole.
A successful end of cancer treatment represents a crucial step on the road to a full recovery. It signifies an important phase in your life where you will have more time and energy than in the period before. You might be inspired to develop new rituals and perhaps face some fresh beginnings.
At the same time, you need to allow yourself and your loved ones to heal physically and emotionally. Take care of yourself. Take care of your friends and family. Learning how to lead a normal life after treatment is a process, one that is not always straightforward.
It is a journey that never ends. Even though you didn’t necessarily choose it for yourself, embrace it. Embrace this new life in the aftermath of cancer, one you can enjoy knowing that you are free from this illness.
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