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6 days ago

Cancer survivors: Managing your emotions after cancer treatment

By Wendy Hanson, MPH, @wendyhanson

shutterstock_751563748 feelings scaleWhen you began your cancer treatment, you couldn't wait for the day you'd finish. However, now that your treatment is completed, you aren't sure if you're ready to move forward as a cancer survivor.

A variety of emotions is normal and, despite being eager to return to a more normal life, it can be scary to step away from the doctors and nurses who supported you through treatment. Take time to acknowledge how and understand why you feel these emotions and what you can do about them.

Fear of recurrence in cancer survivors

Fear of recurrence is 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. The feelings might be especially strong before follow-up visits to your doctor or the anniversary of your cancer diagnosis.

To calm fears and influence your future health try to:

  • Take care of your body. Focus on keeping yourself healthy. Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Fit exercise into your day. Get enough sleep so that you wake feeling refreshed.
  • 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. Write down questions about any signs or symptoms that worry you and use the time with your doctor to ask them. Ask about your risk of recurrence and what signs and symptoms to watch for. Knowing more may help you feel more in control.
  • Get all your follow-up tests. Discuss with your doctor plans for follow-up and monitoring of your cancer. Together, you will formulate a specific plan based on your situation. Not everyone needs regular scans or blood tests. Ask your doctor about creating a plan to look for late side effects of the cancer therapy. Many cancer treatments can cause side effects years later.
  • 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 worries.

Stress in cancer survivors

When you were diagnosed with cancer, you might have focused completely 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 establish a new daily routine. Try exercising, talking with other cancer survivors and taking time for activities you enjoy.

Depression and anxiety in cancer survivors

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. If needed, you can be referred to someone who can help you through talk therapy, medication or both. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are keys to successfully overcoming depression.

Self-consciousness in cancer survivors

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.

Loneliness in cancer survivors

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 afraid of you because you've had cancer.

Don't deal with loneliness on your own. Consider joining a support group with other cancer survivors who are having the same emotions you are. Contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society for more information. Or try an online message board for cancer survivors, such as the American Cancer Society's Cancer Survivors Network.

Where to go for help

While experiencing any of these emotions is normal, that doesn't mean you have to do it alone. If you find that your feelings are overwhelming you, or interfering with your everyday life, it's a good idea to consider getting some help. Whether it’s talking with friends, family, therapist or as part of a support group with other cancer survivors – find what works best for you. You can also consider offering your own expertise to other patients who are going through active treatment and help them in their journey.

You know what is best for you. If you have advice for others on calming fears, talking through emotions or seeking support, please share. We would love to hear from you!

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