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Life After Cancer: Your Emotional Health

Cancer is a difficult journey, both during and after treatment. And it’s not a journey to go through alone. It’s a time to reach out for help. And even after treatment, it’s important to find the support you’ll need. Getting through cancer treatment and being a cancer survivor is both a triumph and a new source of stress. You may be dealing with aftereffects of treatment. You may be trying to figure out how life after cancer feels. You’ll need support as you start to get back to your life.

Common feelings after cancer

Going through cancer treatment is a major life change. You may not feel like you can or want to go back to your life before cancer. For instance, it’s common to:

  • Need time to recover and rebuild your strength and energy

  • Feel like friends and family expect too much or can’t understand what you’ve gone through

  • Miss the support of the healthcare team who helped you through treatment

  • Not be able to do all the things you used to do

  • Feel disconnected from the people around you

  • Have to deal with changes in how your body looks, works, or feels

  • Be angry about what you went through

  • Worry about the cancer coming back

You may:

  • Have trouble working or doing everyday activities

  • Have nightmares

  • Struggle with negative thoughts

  • Feel depressed and anxious

  • Cry more easily

  • Have trouble sleeping

  • Want to stay away from social situations

  • Fear that any new ache or pain is a sign of cancer

  • Be anxious about going back to school or work

  • Worry about medical bills and finances

These are just a few of the reasons you’ll need plenty of support and self-care after cancer.

Getting support

There are many ways you can help yourself through recovery. You may want to:

  • Reach out to family and friends. Talking with loved ones can help you process your feelings. They can also help you find ways to manage daily tasks and activities. Tell them what you can and can’t do. Don’t make them assume or guess. Let them know when you feel ready to take on more.

  • Join a cancer support group. A nearby group or online group can help you feel connected to others who know what you went through, and what you’re going through now. They can be vital connections to help you through postcancer grief, physical aftereffects, dealing with work and family, and other issues. Ask your healthcare team what groups they recommend or visit the Cancer Survivors Network through the American Cancer Society.

  • Talk with your spiritual advisor. A pastor, rabbi, or other faith leader can be a source of comfort and healing. They may be able to help you find meaning in your experience and purpose as you move past it.

  • Work with a counselor. Talking with a therapist can help you recognize and express your feelings and find ways to move past difficulties to feel better.

  • Contact your employee assistance program (EAP). Some companies have an EAP program, which can help you find resources like counseling or support groups near you.

  • Give yourself time. Don’t push yourself. Try to be patient. You and the people around you will need time to adjust to this new phase. And you may still need time to heal and recover. Talk to your healthcare provider about when you can go back to work or school.

  • Know what to watch for. Talk to your treatment team about cancer recurrence. Find out what you should watch for, what your risk is, and what you should do if you think you have signs that the cancer has come back. Set up a follow-up plan. Learn the facts. It can help ease your mind.

Watching for depression

Depression is a common problem during and after cancer treatment. It can be caused by some medicines, as well as chemical changes that take place in your body because of cancer and treatment.

Signs of depression can include:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless most of the time

  • Feeling guilty, worthless, or hopeless

  • Losing your interest in activities you used to enjoy

  • Not being able to pay attention

  • Having a loss of energy

  • Having trouble sleeping

  • Losing your appetite, or eating too much

  • Thinking about self-harm or suicide

  • Feeling restless, irritable, moody, or short-tempered

If you think you’re depressed, talk with your healthcare provider. They may prescribe medicine that will help or direct you to a therapist or support group.

Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Gersten MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2023
© 2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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