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Life after treatment

For most people, the cancer experience doesn't end on the last day of treatment. Life after cancer treatment can present its own challenges. You may have mixed feelings when treatment ends, and worry that every ache and pain means the cancer is coming back. People often feel safer when they are closely monitored by the treatment team and may feel a bit lost when they don't see them as often. Some people say that they feel pressure to return to "normal life", but they are still processing the diagnosis and treatment and dealing with side effects. You may feel a range of emotions for some time.

It is important to allow yourself time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes, establish a new daily routine at your own pace, and seek support if you need it. Your family and friends may also take time to adjust. Cancer Council 13 11 20 can help you connect with other people who have had cancer, and provide you with information about the emotional and practical aspects of living well after cancer. See Living Well After Cancer.

"After my treatment, a psychologist explained that it's common to feel like you've had the rug pulled out from underneath you after a major trauma. It's also common to question your view of the world and your beliefs. Knowing that, and how normal it is, helped tremendously." - David

Worrying about cancer coming back

Many people feel anxious and frightened about the cancer coming back (recurrence), especially in the first year after treatment finishes. For some people, this worry may affect their ability to enjoy life and make plans for the future.

Some people say that with time their fears lessen, but the worry often returns at particular times, such as before any follow-up appointments, tests and scans; special occasions (e.g. birthdays or holidays); anniversaries of the date they were diagnosed, had surgery or finished treatment; and when they read or hear of someone else's experience with cancer.

Ways to manage the fear of recurrence

  • talk to a medical professional about your risk of recurrence
  • focus on what you can control – for example, being involved in your follow-up appointments and making changes to your lifestyle
  • recognise the signs of stress, such as a racing heartbeat or sleeplessness, and manage these in a healthy way. For example, you could try meditation, relaxation or light exercise
  • join a support group to discuss your concerns with other people who have had cancer
  • ask your treatment centre or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to find out about face-to-face, online and telephone support groups
  • speak to a counsellor if the fear of recurrence is overwhelming. The counsellor may be able to help you balance your thinking or have a more helpful frame of mind.

Expert content reviewers:

Dr Anna Hughes, Liaison Psychiatrist and Psycho-oncologist, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Mary Bairstow, Senior Social Worker, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Anita Bamert, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC; Sally Carveth, Assistant Coordinator, Cancer Support Leader Program, Cancer Council NSW; Matt Featherstone, Consumer; Dr Charlotte Tottman, Clinical Psychologist, Allied Consultant Psychologists and Flinders University, SA; Shirley Witko, Senior Social Worker, Comprehensive Cancer Centre, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA.

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