A new normal: navigating life after cancer
After cancer treatment ends, it can be a rollercoaster of emotions. You are entering into a new chapter of life as a survivor. With that comes navigating feelings of hope mixed with fear, both for you and those who support you. It’s a time for both the body and mind to heal.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 15.5 million Americans with a history of cancer diagnosis were considered survivors in 2016 — and they believe that number will rise to 20.3 million by 2026. This is a testament to the advances in treatment and ability to diagnose sooner.
But beating cancer doesn’t mean it’s no longer part of your life. Many times, the emotional challenges and fear of recurrence that come after treatment are a daily struggle, which can be triggered by oncologist appointments, feelings of fatigue and diagnosis anniversaries. Survivors may have feelings of sadness, loneliness or self-consciousness. This is normal – and these tips may help with understanding and coping with those feelings.
Fear of recurrence
The fear of cancer returning is common. It may fade as time goes on, but maybe not completely. So, taking these proactive steps may help provide ease of mind:
- Eating a healthy diet, keeping your body moving and prioritizing quality sleep may help cancer survivors take back control of their health. A healthy lifestyle may also help with the physical recovery from treatment and the mental exhaustion that may come with it.
- Mindfulness and meditation have been shown to help with fatigue, anxiety and fears of recurrence.
- Attending all follow-up appointments and developing plans to continue monitoring for cancer or side-effects of treatment are proactive ways to stay informed. Asking questions about any concerns will provide information needed to feel in control.
- Seek support to address any concerns. Open up to a support group, counselor, family or friend who can listen to any fears, and help find ways to deal with them.
Sadness, anxiety or depression
You beat cancer but you may not immediately feel full of happiness and joy. It is very common to have feelings of sadness and anger. The body and mind of a cancer survivor have been through a lot. But it’s important to identify and acknowledge those feelings so they don’t fester.
Talking to a doctor may help with coping with these new emotions. Therapy or medication may also be an option to help.
Up to this point, survivors may have been surrounded by doctors and nurses who helped them fight cancer. Leaving the safe place of that constant monitoring may be scary and lonely. There may be a disconnect with family and friends who are unable to relate to what you just went through.
Try finding a support group of cancer survivors – they may be going through the same emotions. Shop around for a group that fits with what you are looking for: cancer journey phase, age of group participants, etc. While support groups work well for some people, some individuals may find that hearing about challenges others are going through makes them more anxious.
Appearances may have changed due to surgery or treatment. A lot was lost in order to live and that may affect one’s self-esteem. It can take time to reconnect with your body, femininity or masculinity after such trauma and that’s OK. It’s healthy to grieve what was lost, but don’t discount the strength of your body in fighting – survivors are strong.
- Some cancer survivors said exercising and feeling the strength of their body helped them reconnect.
- Talking and sharing these feelings with their network of supporters may also help.
Fighting cancer is no easy feat and returning to a “new” normal may be different for everyone. Nurturing the mind and body that beat cancer takes time but don’t discount the strength it took to get here.