After finishing cancer treatment, you may think that life will go back to the way it was before diagnosis. The truth is, adjusting to life after cancer treatment can take time. Even though treatment has ended, there still may be challenges and questions. Many people who finish cancer treatment may find they need to make adjustments in their lives. The information that follows can help you know what to expect and direct you to support that you may find helpful.
Even after treatment has ended, you may still experience some side effects for a period of time. For example, these could include:
- Fatigue, pain, and changes in your memory and concentration levels.
- Body changes including scars, skin changes, and weight loss or gain.
- Changes in your sex life and concerns about intimacy and fertility.
There are services that can help you manage these and other physical changes you may be having. Talk with your healthcare team about the specific kinds of changes you are experiencing. They may suggest things like:
- Physical therapy—to help you regain your strength and flexibility.
- Couples counseling—to help you and your partner communicate and to work through sex and intimacy issues.
- Working with a nutritionist—to learn to eat healthy foods and manage your weight.
- Home care services—for help with household chores.
As a cancer survivor, you may also struggle with the emotional impact of the disease and treatment. For example, you may:
- Have feelings of anger and grief about your experience with cancer.
- Anxiety about the cancer coming back.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help manage these feelings, including:
- Talking with your healthcare team. They may be able to calm some of your fears.
- Keeping notes about any symptoms you may have and about your feelings. Share your notes with your healthcare team.
- Talking with a counselor or therapist. Your healthcare team can help you find a counselor who can work with you to manage your specific feelings.
Returning to work
While going back to work can be exciting, it can also be challenging. If you decide to go back to work, some extra planning can make your return as smooth as possible. Here are some tips that can help:
- Talk with your healthcare team about if and when you can return to work.
- Work with your human resources department or your manager about the number of hours you can work, your need for medical appointments, and the possibility of job sharing.
- Make small changes to help with any limitations you may have. For example, take short breaks to help save energy, keep reminder lists to help manage your workload, and keep your manager informed of any concerns you may have.
Family and social life
Cancer can have an impact on your relationships with family, friends, and coworkers. Some people may not know what to say, while others may struggle with accepting your new situation. Here are some tips for managing your relationships with others:
- It will take time for the people around you to adjust to the changes that cancer can bring.
- When you’re comfortable doing so, talk with your family and friends about how you feel and what help you may need from them.
- Plan ahead for what you will tell others about your cancer. Remember, you don’t have to say any more—or less—than you want to.
Sometimes you may struggle with keeping your follow-up medical appointments. You may be tired of dealing with cancer at this point and want to avoid any reminders of your experience. It’s important to understand that follow-up care is a critical part of your overall cancer treatment plan. Your healthcare team will look for any changes in your health and check to see if your cancer has returned or spread. Here are tips for helping you plan for your follow-up visits:
- Tell your healthcare team about any signs that make you think your cancer has returned.
- Talk about any emotions you may have.
- Be sure to discuss any updates to your family’s medical history.
- Bring an updated list of the medicines, vitamins, and supplements you are taking or are thinking of taking.
Talk with your healthcare team to learn more about your care plan after your treatment ends. They can tell you what signs and symptoms you should look for, address any concerns you may have, and let you know what to expect as you live your life after cancer treatment.
- 1. National Cancer Institute. Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment. Accessed January 25, 2018.
- 2. National Cancer Institute. A New Normal. Accessed January 15, 2018.
- 3. Cancer.net. Returning to Work After Cancer. Accessed July 17, 2017.
- 4. National Cancer Institute. Follow-up Care After Cancer Treatment. Accessed July 17, 2017.
- 5. American Cancer Society. Managing Your Health Care After Cancer. Accessed July 17, 2017.