Your treatment, surveillance, and maintenance therapies are slowing, and your scans and other diagnostics are generally positive. You and your medical team have decided that you can begin to decrease your regular visits or check-ups. You are in the next phase of your cancer journey – survivorship.
What is Survivorship?
There are a few definitions of survivorship, and not all people living with cancer resonate with the term. Generally speaking and according to ASCO, survivorship can mean having no signs of cancer after treatment, or living with, through, and beyond cancer.
The journey through active cancer treatment called upon you to engage most, if not all, of your energy into healing your body. As you transition to your post-treatment lifestyle you may feel a complex mix of emotions. While you may be relieved to overcome the demands of treatment, you might also feel worried about what comes next. What is your new normal? Could the cancer return?
Your New Normal
Life rarely feels the same after cancer as it did before. Whenever we face a big challenge, we show up in our life in a new way. Your post-cancer life will not feel so much as a ‘return to normal’ as it will feel like learning your ‘new normal.’ This new normal can include changes to the way you eat, activities you do, people who support you, and ways you see yourself.
Why Do You Feel Nervous?
It’s okay to feel anxious about this next step. For a considerable period of time, you have been consistently seeing your medical team, support staff, and other patients (some who may have become friends), and now you will see them less often. Feelings of sadness or even loneliness might come up for you. You may also find yourself worrying about future recurrence.
What Can You Do to Feel Better?
Survivorship plans often include support group participation, as well as visits to a mental health professional. Talk to your oncology team about finding a cancer survivor support group near you and make it a priority on your calendar.
What Is a Survivorship Care Plan?
Survivorship care plans aim to successfully transition cancer patients from treatment to recovery. You can talk to your medical team about putting one together based on your specific situation. Be sure it includes recommendations for follow up visits, as well as lifestyle changes that could help you to feel your best.
Self-Care is essential in this post-cancer period. Invest your energy into your own wellness and stress management by taking good care of your mind and body.
- Practice relaxation. Relaxed breathing, meditation and yoga have been proven to relieve stress. Try an in-person, online class, or mobile app. There are many from which to choose.
- Eat clean and healthy. Speak with a nutritionist, dietician or health coach about foods that support your healing and strength.
- Move your body. Moderate fitness such as walking, swimming or biking helps to regulate mood, reduce anxiety and depression, and boost your immune system.
- Talk to others. While you may feel an urge to withdraw, sharing your feelings with friends and family, or as part of a support group can lift you out of isolation and into connection.
- Write in a journal or notebook. Journaling can be a powerful form of self-expression, especially for processing thought patterns or fears that spin around and around in our minds. Pen to paper builds a bridge out of our heads to a place of greater peace and clarity.
- Seek community. Whether you seek secular, spiritual or faith-based connection, community is an important part of your self-care plan.
- Volunteer to help others. Giving back helps others and also helps you. By investing into the well-being of another, our own fears loosen their grip and we feel more empowered.
- Be social. Monitor your balance of being alone and going out. Being social helps you to focus on things other than cancer.
What If You Don’t Feel Well?
Post-treatment side effects may continue for years. Long term effects can include sleep disruption, numbness in the hands or feet, pain, memory issues, or hormonal changes. If you feel or notice anything that doesn’t seem “right” to you, be honest with your doctor about it.
Why Are Your Relationships Different?
Physical side effects aren’t the only ones you may experience after treatment ends. Your various relationships may feel different or challenging as the stress of cancer subsides. You may notice a difference in your marriage, family, or even work relationships. Continuing to see your counselor and participating in a support group can help you gain insights and tools to better navigate this transition.
The experience of cancer will always be a part of your and your family’s life story. With beneficial support and coping skills, you will be able to feel more confident as a survivor.
Here are a few resource guidebooks that offer information and suggestions for recognizing these challenges and getting support. Examples of topics covered include: the “normal” feelings and issues that occur after treatment, organizing your follow up care, managing physical symptoms, fear of recurrence, and support for coping: