Submitted by Mid-Illinois Hematology & Oncology Associates LTD
The end of cancer treatment is often a time to rejoice. You are probably relieved to be finished with the demands of treatment and are ready to put the experience behind you. Yet at the same time, you may feel sad and worried. It’s common to be concerned about whether the cancer will come back and what you should do after treatment.
When treatment ends, you may expect life to return to the way it was before you were diagnosed with cancer, but it can take time to recover. You may have permanent scars on your body, or you may not be able to do some things you once did easily. You may even have emotional scars from going through so much. You may find that others think of you differently now — or you may view yourself in a different way.
Just as cancer treatment affects your physical health, it can affect the way you feel, think, and do the things you like to do. It’s normal to have many different feelings after treatment ends. Just as you need to take care of your body after treatment, you need to take care of your emotions.
Each person’s experience with cancer is different, and the feelings, emotions, and fears that you have are unique. The values you grew up with may affect how you think about and deal with cancer. Some people may feel they have to be strong and protect their friends and families. Others seek support from loved ones or other cancer survivors or turn to their faith to help them cope. Some seek help from counselors and others outside the family, while others don’t feel comfortable with this approach.
Whatever you decide, it’s important to do what’s right for you and try not to compare yourself with others.
Worrying about your health
Worrying about the cancer coming back is normal, especially during the first year after treatment. This is one of the most common fears people have after cancer treatment. For some, the fear is so strong that they no longer enjoy life, sleep well, eat well, or even go to follow-up visits. “If I get it again, what am I going to do?” one woman said. “I never thought I’d make it through the first time.” Others may react in a more positive way. As one survivor put it, “Cancer is just part of life, and we always have hope.”
As time goes by, many survivors report that they think about their cancer less often. However, even years after treatment, some events may cause you to become worried. Follow-up visits, symptoms similar to the ones you had before, the illness of a family member, or the anniversary of the date you were diagnosed can trigger concern.
Following are some ways to cope with the fear of cancer returning.
Be informed. Learning about your cancer, understanding what you can do for your health now, and finding out about the services available to you can give you a greater sense of control. Some studies even suggest that people who are well-informed about their illness and treatment are more likely to follow their treatment plans and recover from cancer more quickly than those who are not.
Express your feelings of fear, anger, or sadness. People have found that when they express strong feelings like anger or sadness, they’re more able to let go of them. Some sort out their feelings by talking to friends or family, other cancer survivors, or a counselor. Even if you prefer not to discuss your cancer with others, you can still sort out your feelings by thinking about them or writing them down.
Look for the positive. Sometimes this means looking for the good even in a bad time or trying to be hopeful instead of thinking the worst. Try to use your energy to focus on wellness and what you can do now to stay as healthy as possible.
Don’t blame yourself for your cancer. Some people believe that they got cancer because of something they did or did not do. Remember, cancer can happen to anyone.
You don’t have to be upbeat all the time. Many people say they want to have the freedom to give in to their feelings sometimes. As one woman said, “When it gets really bad, I just tell my family I’m having a bad cancer day and go upstairs and crawl into bed.”
Be as active as you can. Getting out of the house and doing something can help you focus on other things besides cancer and the worries it brings.
Look at what you can control. Some people say that putting their lives in order helps. Being involved in your health care, keeping your appointments, and making changes in your lifestyle are among the things you can control. Even setting a daily schedule can give you a sense of control. While no one can control every thought, some say that they try not to dwell on the fearful ones.
Now that treatment is over, try to take time to get back in tune with yourself. Allow healing time for you and your family members and caregivers. Think about what you can do to begin living without cancer as a main focus. Whether good or bad, life-changing situations often give people the chance to grow, learn, and appreciate what’s important to them.
Many people with cancer describe their experience as a journey. It’s not necessarily a journey they would have chosen for themselves, but it sometimes presents the opportunity to look at things in a different way.
For more information on any type of cancer, you may contact Mid-Illinois Hematology & Oncology Associates, Ltd. 309-452-9701 or online at www.mihoaonline.org. They are an independent QOPI-certified practice located inside the Community Cancer Center at 407 E. Vernon Avenue in. Normal To learn more about the Community Cancer Center, go to their website www.cancercenter.org.