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Life After Cancer
Cancer can be deadly, but millions of people beat it. Surviving cancer is one of the most amazing success stories a person can have. Ending cancer treatment is exciting, but it is also challenging. There are so many questions. What happens next? Will your cancer return? How can you stay healthy?
Although your cancer treatment has ended, you will still need to have regular appointments with your doctor. This may be every 3-4 months for the first two years after treatment. Eventually, you may need a check-up only once or twice a year. Still, these check-ups are an important part of your follow–up care, so work with your doctor to develop the follow-up schedule that works best for you.
During a follow-up appointment, the doctor will do a physical exam. They may also do some blood tests and x-rays. But this is also an important time to talk with your doctor and address any physical or emotional issues that you are experiencing. Examples of important issues that you should discuss include:
- Symptoms that you think may be a sign of cancer’s return
- Pain that you are experiencing
- Physical problems that interfere with your daily life or that bother you, such as fatigue, insomnia, sexual problems, or weight changes
- Emotional problems, such as feelings of anxiety or depression
- Changes in your family history
Dealing With the Fear
It is natural to feel worried before your follow-up appointment. You may be afraid the doctor will tell you that cancer has returned. Some ideas to help you cope with your fear of cancer returning include:
- Be informed about your cancer. Ask your doctor to explain what specific signs you should watch for and learn what you can do for your health.
- Express your feelings, even if it is fear, anger, or sadness. Talk with friends, family, other cancer survivors, or a counselor. When you have strong feelings, it is sometimes easier to express them then let them go.
- Work towards developing a positive attitude. Focus on wellness and attempt to look for the good, even in hard and trying times. It is not necessary to be upbeat all the time, but try to rely on a positive attitude to help you be hopeful.
- Find ways to help you relax and relieve stress. These can be simple activities that help take your mind off your situation; read a new book or see a movie. Soak in the bathtub or try a meditation class.
- Be as active as you can. Try to get out of your house and get involved with something you find worthwhile. Taking the focus off cancer can help alleviate some of the worrying that comes with it.
- Control what you can, and know what you cannot control. Be an advocate for yourself and be involved with your healthcare. Things you can control include making and keeping your medical appointments, setting a daily schedule, and making healthy changes in your lifestyle.
Developing a Wellness Plan
An important step you can take to living a healthy life after cancer is to develop a wellness plan. A wellness plan consists of ways you can take care of your physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. Ask your doctor to help you create a plan for your health.
Everyone’s wellness plan is different, depending on each person’s situation. But, here are some suggestions that you may want to include in your wellness plan:
- Returning to your normal diet may be difficult at first. Start with smaller, more frequent meals. Include foods that are familiar and make you feel comfortable.
- Consider making more than one meal of the same foods and freezing leftovers for later use.
- Eat a variety of healthy foods.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Strive for at least 2-½ cups every day.
- Instead of refined grains, choose whole grains, which give you more fiber and nutrients.
- Try to avoid eating foods that are high in fat. Choose foods that help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Try to maintain a healthy weight by eating better and by participating in a regular exercise program. It is important, though, that you talk to your doctor before starting an exercise routine.
- Limit how much alcohol you drink.
- If you smoke, ask your doctor about strategies to quit.
- If you feel tired, make sure that you rest as needed.
- To relieve stress, practice relaxation techniques.
After cancer treatments have ended, you may just want to get back to normal—the way life was before the diagnosis. But, this rarely happens. If needed, consider looking into counseling, home care, support groups, and other specialized services to help you adjust back into daily life. Cancer has a profound impact on a person, but it doesn’t have to be for the worse. It may just take time to figure out just what normal is for you.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
BC Cancer Agency
Canadian Cancer Society
It's east to add fruits and vegetables to your diet. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/healthy/eathealthygetactive/eathealthy/add-fruits-and-veggies-to-your-diet. Updated October 16, 2013. Accessed November 4, 2015.
Cancer: after cancer treatment. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/cancer/treatment/after-cancer-treatment.html. Updated February 2014. Accessed November 4, 2015.
Facing forward series: life after cancer treatment. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/life-after-treatment.pdf. Updated May 2015. Accessed November 4, 2014.
Low-fat foods. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/EatHealthyGetActive/TakeControlofYourWeight/low-fat-foods. Updated July 20, 2015. Accessed November 4, 2015.
Shopping list: basic ingredients for a healthy kitchen. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/healthy/eathealthygetactive/eathealthy/shopping-list-basic-ingredients-for-a-healthy-kitchen. Updated June 30, 2014. Accessed November 4, 2015.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 10/2015
- Update Date: 11/04/2015