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Once you are told your treatment has finished, it can be a difficult time with a mix of emotions. Most people feel a mixture of relief and excitement but alongside this some anxiety and isolation.
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It can be an opportunity to celebrate and take life off hold, but it can also feel like an abandonment by the medical team you were so involved with until recently. You might feel isolated as relationships with friends and family will change and they may feel a little more distant. Most people feel some anxiety about their cancer returning and this is natural.
It is important to take your time re-establishing your routine and finding your “new normal.” Some people expect things to go back to normal straight away and family and friends may also think the same. However, cancer is a life changing experience that doesn’t finish when your last treatment stops and may have a profound impact on the direction for your life.
Some people want to set new goals and their outlook on life changes. For some this involves career, travel or relationship with family and friends. Others just want to get back to the way life was before and doing the things that they most enjoyed or being back in their old routine. There is no right or wrong way to adjust to life after cancer.
Fear of recurrence is common amongst people who have survived cancer. It can feel as though you don’t trust your body anymore. You may worry that any ache, pain or symptom is the cancer coming back. Talking to a medical professional about what you should look for my help you to stop worrying unnecessarily.
Changes to your body such as weight loss or scarring over the course of your treatment and disease may affect how you view yourself. You may feel that you are not the same person as you were before, both physically and mentally.
The best way to deal with these feelings is to talk about them with those people around you that you trust. It can take a little while to adjust to changes with your body and you need to give yourself time.
There are many reasons that people feel guilty during treatment for cancer and afterwards. Sometimes it’s about surviving a disease when others die from it. Sometimes it’s due to the sacrifices of family and friends to help when you need support. Sometimes, you might feel guilty for not living well enough after cancer.
Guilt can come and go depending on the situation or occasion, sometimes it is not there at all and sometimes it may be a very strong feeling. Guilt is perfectly normal after cancer. Some people find that supporting volunteering or spending more time with friends and family helps. Others prefer to support other people in a similar situation to them. There is no right or wrong way to manage this feeling.
Life after cancer is filled with many questions. You may be wondering about how to get life back to the way it was before cancer. You may have questions about how long term some of the side effects of your treatment may be. You may be uncertain about the cancer coming back or some of the long-term effects of treatment on your body and mental health.
Uncertainty is common, and makes it feel difficult to plan ahead for your future. Techniques to relax such meditation and mindfulness can help with the uncertainty. Setting short term goals and extending them as you achieve them is another way to track your progress and make step changes towards the future you would like for yourself.
Some people feel anger after their treatment has finished. Anger at your diagnosis and how life has changed and may continue to change is common. It can take some time to get over these feelings, giving yourself time, acknowledging and respecting the feeling is better than trying to ignore it.
Some people feel as though throughout their treatment afterwards that they don’t care or cannot summon an emotion regarding how they feel. This can go on after treatment and into life beyond cancer. You may find that you are emotionally numb for a long time and that something completely unrelated triggers an emotional response. There is nothing wrong with you if you feel numb, no matter how long it goes on for.
If you feel isolated, anxious, afraid or guilty and these feelings last for a long time with nothing changing, it may be a symptom of depression. Depression is not a natural part of any cancer journey. People often identify their depression after they have finished their treatment. It may be because you were putting so much energy into your treatment and getting better that’s not until you sit back and take stock that you realise the mental impact that cancer has had on you.
Symptoms of depression include feeling intense sadness or a level of emptiness all of the time, guilt or hopelessness, lack of energy or care for activities that you used to enjoy, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, problems sleeping and feeling irritable or unsettled. If you have symptoms like this regularly throughout the day or continuously over time you may be depressed. The condition can be treated, and it is important that you see your GP. Some people have suicidal thoughts when they depressed and think about ending their own life, hurting themselves or someone else. In this case you need to see a medical professional urgently and be honest about how you are feeling. You can also call Samaritans on 116123
Once you have adjusted to what has happened to you, finishing cancer treatment and thinking about the rest of your life can be exciting. Events you were worried you would not see such as children getting married are now a possibility again. Some people see life after cancer as an opportunity to be the person they have always wanted to be and do the things that they have always wanted.
At the end of cancer treatment, you may just feel glad that its over. Your life is not ruled by cancer anymore and you can take a break from being a patient. Your family and friends likely feel the same, it can feel as though a weight or burden has been lifted.
Whatever you feel after your treatment finishes, it is important to remember to attend any follow up appointments and keep your body healthy. This will help both your mind and body recover from the cancer and treatments.