You have survived cancer. Now what?

You, and everyone around you, expects you to be happy and excited to get on with your life when cancer treatments are over. However, many cancer survivors are surprised to find they feel unsettled instead. Post-treatment, you may experience feeling sad, anxious, bewildered, lost, abandoned, angry...the list can go on.  It's actually normal for people to feel this way after the long journey of cancer treatment, but we are seldom told this.

It makes sense, though. For perhaps a year or more, you have become accustomed to the caring and supportive environments provided by nurses, doctors, other medical staff, friends, family and care-givers. Perhaps a spouse, or other loved ones, have been taking care of many of your responsibilities while you were incapacitated; and all the while, medical agencies have dictated your schedule. Your entire life has been focused on your cancer and treatments, and thoughts of your own mortality have been a daily part of your psychological landscape.

When it's all over, much of the support drops away in an instant. You may feel a deep sense of grief over the loss of the strong community of other patients, families and medical staff to which you belonged during your treatment. Suddenly, you have to make decisions and choose directions you haven't had to consider for a long time. It's possible you don't have the energy for many of the responsibilities you are now expected to resume.

The people around you celebrate your success and tell you how great you look! But you still don't feel very well physically or emotionally and may not for some months to come. You may have some new perspectives on life and what is important to you, and you may be re-evaluating what you now want to do with your life. You might be finding that you can't just step in where you left off. Indeed, your very sense of identity might be changing. You are no longer who you were before cancer, and you are no longer a cancer patient.

Additionally, you might feel uncertain of the success of your treatments; your body might be visibly, irrevocably changed; your cognitive skills might be altered and some of the lingering side-effects of treatment and on-going medication are the same as the symptoms of many cancers. It can be hard to trust your body again and difficult to make commitments again after your life has been disrupted by cancer. Some side-effects can be debilitating in ways you hadn't expected, and that can significantly impact your options and choices in life - at least for the moment.

This is a very unique moment in your life, and there is much to learn, explore and choose:

  • Allow yourself to feel what you feel regardless of expectations
  • Grieve what you have lost
  • Communicate the reality of your situation with your loved ones
  • and those who depend upon you
  • Be realistic about your abilities and energy level and plan activities
  • and commitments accordingly
  • Ask for help - yes, even more help - where you still need it
  • Recover your sense of agency and personal worth
  • Live more comfortably with uncertainty
  • Identify your new values and old ones that remain intact
  • Make choices and create a life that reflect your values and interests

What do you need after cancer?

For more information contact Heather Hennenburg

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