Coping with life after cancer treatment

CanTeen
Canteen Connect | YCS

Now that your active treatment is finished, you are considered to be in the ‘survivorship’ stage. Shifting from ‘patient’ to ‘survivor’ can bring up lots of different emotions.

You may feel relieved that treatment is over, excited about the future, grateful and determined to get the most out of life.

But you also might feel low, tired, anxious, concerned about changes in your appearance or worried about the future.

Although happy to be alive, some cancer survivors may feel guilty that they survived while other people with cancer didn’t. This ‘survivor guilt’ can be especially hard for young people, particularly if you formed strong friendships or connections with people in hospital or through support groups who have died.

If you are experiencing any of these feelings, it can be really helpful to talk to your nurse, social worker or a counsellor here on CanTeen Connect.

Coping with loss

Learning to cope with losses is part of the process of getting back to ‘normal’. The best thing you can do is acknowledge the things you have lost, and allow yourself to grieve for them.

Some losses, like hair or a body part, are the most visible to you and others – and can be tough to deal with.

But you can also feel grief for the loss of ‘invisible’ but important things like:

  • time spent away from your regular life, and chances you missed.
  • experiences, like missing your year 12 formal, or playing in the rugby final.
  • relationships and friendships.
  • self-esteem, if you look different or just feel less sure of yourself after everything that has happened.
  • independence – loss of mobility, being unable to do certain things on your own, having to rely on family for help, or just not being able to do things like travel or play sport. It could also be the loss of a job or financial independence.
  • dreams you had for the future.
  • your role in the family, or your circle of friends, or your romantic relationship may have changed. It can take time to figure out a new identity; and while you’re working on it you might feel lost and purposeless.
  • while we often think of routines being boring, they’re comfortable because they give our lives structure.

There will never be a complete substitute for the things you have lost. But eventually you can take comfort in other things.

For example, you may have missed out on starting Uni with all your mates and that’s something you’ll never get back. But if you start Uni later on, you can maybe feel happy that you managed to achieve that goal, despite the challenges, and you got there in the end.

It can help to talk to others who understand what you're going through or a counsellor. You can do both (or one or the other) here on CanTeen Connect.

Feelings about leaving the hospital/treatment team

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for – so why does it feel so scary?

It’s normal to feel anxious. It comes when we experience something new or foreign. You may have spent so long in hospital that you’ve become used to the security of it. You’ve been surrounded by other people with cancer, and you’ve had nurses and medical staff to care for you 24/7.

You will be okay. Before you leave the hospital, talk to your treatment team about things you can do to ensure you have all the ongoing support you need, like:

  • Have the phone number of your doctor, Cancer Care Coordinator and/or the hospital somewhere that everyone in the house can see it.
  • Discuss a plan of action with everyone in the house so they know what to do if you get sick.
  • Arrange for a nurse or social worker from the hospital to come and check on you for the first couple of weeks.
  • Book your next follow up appointment with your doctor.
  • Know that you can call your doctor or nurse at any time if you’re worried about anything at all.

Settling in at home

Sometimes people may expect that once they return back home, everything will go back to how it once was, even though on the inside and outside, they know that things are no longer the same.

This won’t be easy for anyone involved. There are new routines to get used to, and living with other people again means dealing with all their moods and issues. You might have to rely on them still to help you do basic things like get dressed or go to the toilet.

Even when you’re surrounded by others, you might feel isolated. Sometimes you will just want to be alone.

Try to be patient and honest with the people you share your space with, and talk to them about your feelings and needs. They are also dealing with a lot of change and after a while things will settle down as you all get used to the new situation. Communicate your needs to them – you can’t expect them to know what you want if you don’t tell them.

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