Life After Treatment: Creating a New Normal

August 12, 2015
Black woman smiling on the beach

Once the fight against cancer is won, a new journey begins.

People don’t always talk about life after cancer. The stories and movies tend to focus on the treatment. After treatment is over, the story is over and life appears just to go on. However, this is generally not the case. There can be left over side effects from treatment, both physically and emotionally, as well as questions about the future. How to go back to “normal” may feel impossible–you may not even know where to start.

Cancer changed your life, and just because treatment is over does not mean you have to go back to exactly the way things were. Your “new normal” is how many people describe life after cancer.

Here are some tips to help create your new normal:

Physical Health: After treatment you and your family members may expect you to feel better after just a few weeks. But you may not. Cancer treatment often comes with long-term fatigue and mental fogginess often referred to as “chemo brain”. You may also experience pain from surgeries or still have to deal with other complications from treatment. One tip is talk to your doctor and figure out the best ways to manage any long term side effects you’re experiencing. Eating right and exercising regularly are good ways to feel better during and after treatment.

Mental/Emotional Health: Cancer is a disease that not only affects you physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. Once treatment is over you may feel a mix of emotions, from relief to sadness to anxiety. This is okay. Recognizing your emotions and processing them is a good start. Seeking help is also important. Joining a support group may be beneficial for you. Keeping a journal or finding a healthy outlet for your emotions can also help. You can also reach out to the Cancer Support Community Affiliate near you for support.  Or you can call our Helpline (1-888-793-9355) at any time if you feel like you have difficulty managing your emotions, or just want someone to talk to.

Relationships: During your treatment the relationships between you and your family members and friends may have changed. People may not know how to talk to you about cancer, or feel wonder if they should even bring it up. You may feel isolated, or like no one really understands. Keeping communication open and honest is important for your relationships to move forward. It may be beneficial for you to be the one to start the conversation; ask others how they are feeling or how they have been in order for them to open up.

Work: Due to medical bills and other financial burdens, going back to work may be necessary. However, if you are not physically or mentally ready to go back, it is okay to wait. Going back to work can feel strange and make you nervous. Your co-workers may not know how to talk to you for fear of saying the wrong thing. You may also not be able to handle the same work load as before due to fatigue. Try talking to your boss or supervisor about this; do not be afraid to ask for help.

Today there are an estimated 14.5 million cancer survivors in the United States. The number of people who survive cancer continues to increase. We know a lot today about how cancer and treatments affect patients long-term. Experiences with treatments and life after treatment are things to be shared, so as a community we can learn and grow. If you would like to share your experience with cancer or caring for someone with cancer please join the Cancer Experience Registry. You can share your experience and help change the way we see cancer.

Once cancer treatment is over, adjusting to life may be strange at first. It is important to remember that you do not have to go through anything alone. There is always love and support out there for you.

Also see: Health After Treatment