Life After Cancer Treatment: 4 Tips to Create a New Normal

January 20, 2022
A man in white shirt and shorts stretches out his arms and looks up at the blue sky smiling beside a lake

Once your life has been touched by cancer, it is difficult to go back to what life looked like before. Even after your treatment is over, going back to “normal” may not feel like an option. The physical and emotional toll your mind and body went through during treatment may leave you with lingering side effects.

As of January 2019, there were an estimated 16.9 million cancer survivors in the United States.

― National Cancer Institute

You may expect to return to the person you were before your cancer journey began. Likewise, those closest to you may expect you to go back to the person you used to be. It is important to be patient with yourself as you navigate your “new normal.” Life will not be exactly the same as it was, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life.

Here, we share 4 tips to help you create and embrace your new normal:

 

1. Find ways to manage any lasting physical side effects, such as fatigue.

Cancer treatment often comes with long-term fatigue. You may have trouble finding the energy for even the simplest tasks. Fatigue usually lessens over time, but it is sometimes caused by anemia or blood loss that can be treated with medication. Sometimes fatigue is confused with depression, a psychological condition treatable with counseling or medication.

Eating healthy and exercising regularly can help you feel better after treatment and eliminate any lingering physical side effects. Be sure to talk to your health care team if you are experiencing fatigue or any other side effects to determine what will work best for you.

roasted cauliflower soup in a blue ceramic bowl
Try our recipe for Roasted Cauliflower Soup, then explore other healthy recipes and cooking videos in our Kitchen.

2. Prioritize your mental and emotional health.

After treatment is over, you may feel a mix of emotions, from relief to sadness to anxiety. Recognize what it is you are feeling and know that those emotions are common among cancer survivors. Here are a few suggestions to take care of your mental health:

Explore more tips on managing your health after treatment

 

3. Don’t let any fears of the future stop you from living in the moment.

Even though you are cancer free, fear of recurrence is a reality for many cancer survivors. But focusing on the here-and-now can help shift your thinking away from fears and worries and allow you to embrace the people and things that matter most.

Finding meaning after cancer is easier said than done, but try to do things that bring you pleasure, even if adjustments need to be made. Playing with a grandchild, listening to your favorite music, taking a walk, or sharing a special meal with a friend are just a few things you can do to enjoy life today.

4. Have open and honest conversations.

The relationships between you and your family members, friends, and colleagues may have changed during your treatment. People may not know how to talk to you about cancer, or they may wonder if they should even bring it up. You might feel like no one really understands. To move forward, you may need to have honest conversations with different people in your life.

Depending on your circumstances, here are some examples of conversations you may want to consider having:

  • Many partners might struggle to talk about intimacy and fertility after cancer. Listen to our podcast episode about navigating those tough conversations and sexual wellness after cancer.
  • Due to medical bills and other financial burdens, going back to work may be necessary. But if you are not physically or mentally ready, it’s okay to wait. You may not be able to handle the same workload you did before because of fatigue. Talk to your manager or supervisor about what is best for you.
  • Meet with your health care team to discuss any needs or concerns you may have post-treatment.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your friends and family. Let them know when you could use extra support. And at the same time, don’t be afraid to say no when people ask you to do things you aren’t physically or mentally ready for. It is important to have conversations with your loved ones about your needs and abilities.

"I never really thought of myself as a very strong person. That changed when I was diagnosed with cancer. I realized I was strong enough to handle anything thrown my way."

― Laurie, cancer survivor

As you transition from treatment to survivorship, it is important to remember that you don’t have to do it alone. Within the cancer community, there are others who will understand your experience and what you are feeling. The Cancer Support Community has 175 locations worldwide, including 52 licensed affiliates and health care partnerships. Find a caring and supportive location near you.