Even if you’ve been given the all-clear following cancer treatment, everything can feel very different. How can you get back to ‘normal’ life?
The 'new normal'
When you go through the tunnel of cancer treatment, everyday life is put on hold. You look forward to the time when things can get back to normal, but it can be a shock to discover that coming out the other end of that tunnel may mean a new kind of normal, not just picking up the threads of your old life.
“After having spent many months in the cycles of treatment, hospital visits, scans etc, when you get told it’s all finished and you no longer have to spend all your time focussing on getting well, it can feel like you have been cut adrift suddenly. No-one telling you how your days are going to be. Radiotherapy was the last part of my treatment and I remember walking out after my last zap bursting into tears, I didn't know why. It was just, suddenly it was all over.” Community Forum member
Even if you have been given the all clear, fear can lurk in the back of your mind that the cancer could return. These feelings are normal, but left unexpressed they can trigger depression, anxiety and even panic attacks, especially if you have been prone to them before. Our community members report the feeling of a ‘black cloud’ hanging over them.
Physical changes caused by cancer may be hard to come to terms with, and make life everyday uncomfortable and frustrating.
Your energy levels can be low for some time or even permanently - recovering isn’t just about ending treatment, but rebuilding your strength and motivation to carry on living.
Being told how well you look by family and friends now that you are “better” when you feel awful inside can trigger frustration and resentment.
Becki McGuinness, who became infertile in her twenties as a result of cancer and wrote a blog about it said, “I’ve learnt from my cancer diagnosis that I don’t have to be strong all the time and going through different emotions is okay. I don’t have to react like the majority, but react the way that is right for me to deal with things.”
If you have been relying on a lot of support from friends and family during treatment and are looking forward to regaining your independence, you may feel resentful that you still need their support.
To help with these negative feelings, you can seek help from your GP, a specialist counsellor or charity to explore possibilities such as medication and/or therapies like mindfulness, meditation and cognitive behavioural therapy - all of which can help change the way you think and behave.
There is specially selected range of recommended books and aids to mindfulness in the Live Better with online shop.
Give yourself time
If you feel confused and disorientated, give yourself time to reflect, think and talk things through. What is and isn’t possible now? How has your future changed? What are your priorities and plans?
Your key worker may be able to offer you a holistic needs assessment (HNA) which can help with your concerns and possible solutions after cancer treatment
Create a new outlook
Anything that can distract and re-energise you will help - something you enjoy, whether it’s gentle exercise, getting outside into nature, starting a new hobby or taking up an old one, joining or a group activity like a reading group or voluntary organisation.
Sometimes just talking to someone who has had a similar experience can help. Our community forum is a good place to start.
Of course for some people, cancer can be life-changing in a positive way. “My aim is to show that while destructive, a cancer diagnosis can be transformative and you can go on to live a great life after treatment,” says Sophie Trew, who changed her lifestyle when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
She set up Trew Talks on Facebook and YouTube, where she aims to raising awareness about treatments and lifestyle changes that aid recovery. Sophie even founded the Trew Fields Festival – the UK’s first ever holistic cancer awareness festival.
Jackie Buxton wrote a book about her experience of breast cancer at the age of 45, Tea & Chemo: Fighting Cancer, Living Life. For Jackie, cancer reinforced that “happiness is not how you lie in the sun, it’s how you dance in the rain.”
Where to find help
- Macmillan Cancer Support has helpful information about talking to families. Helpline 0808 808.
- Find support groups in your area through an internet search, or try Cancer Support UK for telephone groups
- BACP provides information about counsellors who are registered with a professional organisation.
Live Better With Cancer has a range of recommended books that cover all stages of cancer treatment and beyond.
You can share your thoughts and feelings with other people who have been through the same thing on the Live Better With Cancer community forum.