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When you began your cancer treatment, you couldn't wait for the day you'd finish. But now that you've completed your treatment, you aren't sure if you're ready for life as a cancer survivor. With your treatment completed, you'll likely see your cancer care team less often. Though you, your friends and your family are all eager to return to life as usual, it can be scary to leave the protective cocoon of doctors and nurses who supported you through treatment.
Everything you're feeling right now is normal for cancer survivors. Recovering from cancer treatment isn't just about your body — it's also about healing your mind. So take time to acknowledge the fear, grief and loneliness you're feeling right now. Then take steps to understand why you feel these emotions and what you can do about them.
Fear of recurrence is very common in cancer survivors. Though they may go years without any sign of disease, cancer survivors say the thought of recurrence is always with them. You might worry that every ache or pain is a sign of your cancer recurring. Eventually these fears will fade, though they may never go away completely.
Cope with your fear by being honest with yourself about your feelings. Don't feel guilty about your feelings or try to ignore them in hopes that they'll go away. Ask your doctor about what you can do to reduce your chance of a cancer recurrence. Once you've done all you can to reduce that risk, acknowledge your fears. Take control of those fears and do what you can to influence your future health. Try to:
- Take care of your body. Focus your mind on keeping yourself healthy. Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. If you have the energy, get some exercise. Go for a walk, ride your bike or go running. Get enough sleep. These actions will not only help your body recover from cancer treatment, but also help put your mind at ease by giving you a greater sense of control over your life.
- Go to all of your follow-up appointments. You may fear the worst when it's time for your next follow-up appointment. Don't let that stop you from going. Use the time with your doctor to ask questions about any signs or symptoms that worry you. Ask about your risk of recurrence. When you know more, you may find that you feel more in control.
- Be open about your fears. Express your concerns to your friends, family, other cancer survivors, your doctor or a counselor. If you're uncomfortable with the idea of discussing your fears, try recording your thoughts in a journal.
- Keep busy. Get out of the house and find activities that will take your mind off your fears.
Most cancer survivors report that the fear of recurrence fades with time. But certain events can trigger your fears. The feelings might be especially strong before follow-up visits to your doctor or the anniversary of your cancer diagnosis.
When you were diagnosed with cancer, you might have devoted all your time to focusing on your treatment and getting healthy. Now that you've completed treatment, all those projects around the house and the things on your to-do list are competing for your attention. This can make you feel stressed and overwhelmed.
Don't feel you need to do everything at once. Take time for yourself as you try to get your daily routine back on track. Try exercising, talking with other survivors and taking time for activities you enjoy, such as music or art.
Lingering feelings of sadness and anger can interfere with your daily life. For many people these feelings will dissipate. But for others, these feelings can develop into depression.
Tell your doctor about your feelings. He or she can refer you to someone who can help you with your feelings through talk therapy or medication. Though you might be reluctant to discuss your feelings for fear you might show signs of weakness, know that depression is common in cancer survivors. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are keys to successfully overcoming depression.
If surgery or other treatment changed your appearance, you might feel self-conscious about your body. Changes in skin color, weight gain or loss, the loss of a limb or the placement of an ostomy might make you feel like you'd rather stay home, away from other people. You might withdraw from friends and family. And self-consciousness can strain your relationship with your partner if you don't feel worthy of love or affection.
Take time to grieve. But also learn to focus on the ways cancer has made you a stronger person and realize that you're more than the scars that cancer has left behind. When you're more confident about your appearance, others will feel more comfortable around you.
You might feel as if others can't understand what you've been through, which makes it hard to relate to other people and can lead to loneliness. Friends and family might be unsure of how to help you, and some people may even be scared of your cancer.
Don't deal with loneliness on your own. Consider joining a support group with other cancer survivors who are going through the same emotions you are. Contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society for more information. Or try one of the numerous online communities where cancer survivors from all over the world go to offer each other support.
If you knew other people with cancer who died of the disease, you might wonder why you lived. It's common to feel guilty about living when other people died. It's difficult to make sense of why some people with cancer live and others don't.
But maybe it's best not to try to make sense of it. Instead, think about what you're going to do to make your life meaningful and give your survival purpose. Consider volunteering. Your purpose doesn't have to be cancer related, but since you have special expertise in this area, you might like to help other people who've just been diagnosed with your same cancer. Or you can join a group that raises money for cancer research.
While experiencing any of these emotions is normal, that doesn't mean you have to suffer alone. If you find that your feelings are overwhelming you or interfering in your every day life, it's a good idea to consider getting some outside help.
Sometimes talking with friends or family can help. But you might feel like those people can't truly understand what you're going through if they haven't had cancer. You might consider consulting:
- A therapist. Your doctor can refer you to a professional who can help you sort through your emotions and come up with ways to deal with your feelings.
- Other cancer survivors. Support groups, whether in your community or online, provide a great place to share your feelings and hear from others who are going through exactly what you're experiencing. You can learn new ways of coping with fears.
Devise your own plan for coping with your emotions. You know what works best for you. Have an open mind and try different strategies to find out what brings you the most peace.