Your New Normal – How to Return to Life after Cancer Treatment
Congratulations on finishing your cancer treatment. You may be relieved that your treatment is finished and feel happy to be returning to your day-to-day life. However, you may also have some unsettling feelings. Both are normal.
What Comes Next?
Now that your treatment has ended, you are ready to begin the period called follow-up care. Knowing what comes next can help you feel more in control and empowered as you begin your life as a cancer survivor and thriver.
There are many emotional and physical aspects that may have changed for you that can make a life after cancer difficult to adjust to.
Some examples include:
• You may worry about life after cancer or about your cancer coming back. Cancer survivors can also have “scanxiety”…a feeling of anxiousness when they’re due for a scan or other follow-up medical visit.
• Some cancer treatments can also leave you with brain fog that results in you having trouble learning new facts or skills, concentrating, or remembering things.
• Your body may have changed as a result of the cancer treatment you received, and this might affect your sex life or your sense of self confidence; you may not feel as physically strong as you did before the diagnosis.
• Your relationship with your spouse or other friends may have changed as a result of your experience with cancer.
All of these can leave you with feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. These feelings are normal and experienced by many people after their treatment.
Nobody is wrong for feeling one way or another, but it’s important to develop a cancer survivor care plan to help you identify the areas you’d like to focus on. This may mean sharing how you’re feeling mentally and physically and getting the support you need. You may also find that support groups for cancer survivors (link to Peer Power) can be helpful places where you can talk to other people with similar experiences.
What is a Cancer Survivor Care Plan?
A follow-up care plan or survivorship care plan is a record of your cancer and treatment history, as well as a list of any future checkups or follow-up tests recommended by your doctor that can help find early signs of a new cancer or a return of the same cancer. It may also list possible long-term effects of your treatments and ideas for staying healthy. It is a place where you can indicate the areas you might need support on as you navigate your life after cancer. It can help you feel more in control and empowered.
How Can I Use a Survivor Care Plan?
A survivorship care plan includes important information about your cancer and treatment, which helps you and your doctors understand each other. Bring it with you whenever you go to the doctor. Your plan should say when you need to get follow-up tests, and which doctors are responsible for your care. Keep your plan and refer to it throughout your lifetime so you can be sure you get the tests you need.
How do I Get a Survivor Care Plan?
Your cancer doctor may give you a survivorship care plan during or after your cancer treatment. If you did not get one, ask your doctor about it or download this form from The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and ask your doctor to help you complete the plan. This is also the time to talk with your doctor about any concerns you have related to your plan. It will help you keep track of important information so it can be easily shared with other health care providers who care for you throughout your lifetime.
What Else can I do to Stay Mentally and Physically Healthy Following my Treatment?
Research shows that when people take an active role in their health, they feel more in control and are more likely to implement healthy actions that can boost the length and quality of their life. Physical activity has also been linked to lower risk of depression, as well as lower rates of recurrence of certain kinds of cancer, among survivors. There are definitely things you can do to stay mentally and physically healthy:
• Be patient and open-minded about what your “new normal” looks like.
• Connect to others who have been through a similar experience through survivor support groups.
• Ask your doctor for a referral to mental health and social support services if you are struggling
• Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
• Don’t use tobacco. If you smoke, try to quit, and stay away from other people’s smoke.
• Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
• Protect your skin from exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun and tanning beds.
• Keep a healthy weight.
• Be physically active.
• Get a flu shot every year and any other vaccines recommended by your doctor (COVID-19 vaccine)
• Get cancer screenings as recommended (e.g., mammogram, colonoscopy, etc.)