Cancer survivor. It may be one of the most gratifying designations that a person can be given, but being a survivor doesn’t always progress without challenges. There can be unexpected changes that happen for both the patient and their family. The transition to ones “new normal” can take months.
One of the biggest challenges is uncertainly about what’s next. A common question is: “Will the cancer return?” Many survivors share this concern. Your health care clinician is in the best position to give you a prognosis based on your individual situation.
Many survivors find their concerns about recurrence recede over time. However, certain triggers can prompt the feelings to resurface. Triggers can include follow-up visits, noticing an unexpected pain or discomfort, anniversaries of a diagnosis date or the illness of a friend or family member. These feelings are normal.
A cancer survivorship visit and personalized care plan helps a survivor know the long term plan for follow up care and provides a plan for ongoing health and wellness. Your health care clinicians will also monitor any late and long term side effects related to treatment and will watch carefully for any signs of a cancer recurrence.
There are some common thoughts and feelings many survivors experience. Here are some suggestions that can help you keep a positive outlook.
Be Open About Your Feelings
As a cancer survivor, it’s best for your physical and mental health to not internalize your concerns.
- Share your recovery concerns with your health care clinicians. Your care team can give you support throughout your recovery.
- Share your feelings with your family or close friends. Being part of a survivors’ support group can be encouraging. You’ll learn you’re not alone in your questions and concerns. The members may also give you ideas for ways to improve your quality of life.
- Start a journal. Writing down your feelings is a good way to organize and manage them. As you write down concerns, you can also let them go.
- Consider meditation or yoga to relax.
- Be aware that some family members will expect you to be 100% back to normal. They may not understand that recovery is a process that can continue long after treatment. It may take time for your family to accept the new normal. It may be helpful for family to visit with your clinicians to get their perspectives on your recovery.
- Find comfort in spiritualty. For generations, faith has been a source of strength for many.
- Give back to your community. Volunteering connects you with others and helps develop a strong sense of purpose. Volunteers often discover that they get back more than they give. Many organizations have rewarding volunteer roles you’ll enjoy and that fit your physical abilities.
- If you feel your fears and concerns are beyond your control, ask your clinician for a referral to a counselor or therapist who can help you find a new perspective.
Take Control of Your Health and Wellness
Having a specific action plan for survivorship can be reassuring. Schedule a survivorship visit with your clinicians to develop your survivorship health care plan and follow their guidance.
- Understand the medications you should take and follow your clinician’s directions. Ask questions if you’re not clear.
- Ask your clinician about late side effects you might have noticed or are concerned about developing weeks or even months after treatment. This could include heart or lung problems, hearing and vision changes or bone loss.
- Ask your clinicians if you have questions about when you should call them to report changes in your health or if you notice unexpected aches or pains.
- Eat a healthful diet. Proper nutrition is a key to your long-term health and wellness. Ask your clinician or a dietitian for guidance.
- Exercise should be part of your long-term approach to wellness. Activities such as walking, jogging, biking and swimming can boost your physical and mental health.
- Quit smoking. This can cut your risk for a recurrence. Cut back on alcohol consumption. This can also reduce your risks.
The steps we’ve described will help you transition to your new normal as a cancer survivor. Take time to celebrate your successful treatment and to look forward to your future!
The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.