Life After Cancer: Back to ‘Normal’?
Being pronounced cancer-free is a life-changing moment. You’ve pushed through the gruelling treatment sessions, the endless hospital appointments, the nervous wait for scan results and the seas of tears shared with family and friends. But somehow you don’t feel it’s over. The nagging uncertainty is still there, asking questions like ‘is it really gone?’, ‘what if my cancer comes back?’, ‘how do I deal with the long-term effects of cancer treatment?’ Being declared ‘Cancer Free’ isn’t the be-all and end-all of your journey. But, you’ve made it to a new milestone: Survivor, requiring a very different kind of treatment which isn’t always written on a prescription.
Firstly, remember that everything you are feeling is OK. The transition from ‘The friend with cancer’ to ‘Survivor’ is not easy, and everyone manages it differently.
Some people describe feeling a loss of purpose, drive or goal after defeating cancer. Furthermore, it may feel like whilst during your cancer journey, support was coming from all angles, post-cancer, the doctors are less regular, family and friends less attentive and even you have less energy to dedicate to your recovery as you did to your treatment. In addition, there may be physical changes – weight gain or loss, hormonal changes, scars or the results of amputation. Whether scars are emotional, physical, or both, it’s important to introduce coping mechanisms to get you to the healthiest, happiest version of you – better for the experiences you’ve lived through.
Here are some valuable tips that can help cancer survivors resume post-treatment routine with greater confidence and ease.
Care for the mind and body
One of the most critical aspects of cancer recovery and life after involves leveraging the energy to manage stress and focus on wellness. It is important to find ways to stay relaxed, express feelings with family and friends, or join a support group to communicate with other survivors who have been through similar experiences. Exercising can help reduce fatigue and depression, boost self-esteem, enhance the immune system, and most importantly, improve overall survival of up to 50%.2
It’s also important to be expressive. Avoid disconnecting from the family and friends who helped you recover and instead involve them in your recovery. Talk to them about how you are feeling and let them support you.
Develop a new hobby
After having survived the ordeal of cancer, it is not unusual for a person to try and live the way they lived before cancer. At the same time, in many cases, there is a realization that some of the things that the person did in the past stop appearing sensible or right. Post-cancer life is always going to be a new way of living, and it is a great idea to try and pursue a hobby which you had been planning to take up for a long time. It could be painting, writing or traveling or any other thing that gives the person a new perspective on life.
Consider resuming work
For a working professional, getting back to ‘normal’ work can help in regaining a sense of normalcy otherwise lost during treatment. The workplace can facilitate a renewed source of purpose and focus beyond cancer. However, starting work again requires some extra planning to ensure that the person is ready and comfortable with the transition. Creative scheduling options may help the cancer survivors resume work successfully. For example:
- Flexible timings that allow leaving for doctor visits
- Part-time hours for the first few months
- Job sharing on critical projects until the person is entirely ready for full-time work
Staying in touch with the healthcare team
It’s possible that the patient has a follow-up care plan, but if not, it has to be created. Whether it is anxiety about the side effects or an uncertain future, one needs to talk about it. The healthcare team can offer the right advice. Just opening up about one’s experiences, symptoms, or side effects may help calm fears. Also, journaling everything one feels or witnesses is a good idea. This can help in management of the problems and provide a reference list during the subsequent follow-up.
Focus on food
On the road to cancer recovery, a nutritious diet can make a huge contribution to speeding up recovery. Nothing but a balanced diet can help in regaining strength and energy, maintaining weight, reducing the risk of infection,healing and recovering faster. It’s always good to consult a dietician to create a supervised and nutritious plan. One should start eating a range of foods from all of the food groups. It is important to include foods rich in proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water to keep the immune system healthy.2
There is a need to time to learn and adjust to the new way of doing things. Use this phase to develop a new perspective on responsibilities and a new outlook to figure out what’s important. Establish boundaries and shift priorities. This is the time for you to start a new chapter, and a crucial time should be invested in a way that recharges the mind, spirit and body.
- World Health Organisation. (2020). World Cancer Report: Cancer Research for Cancer Prevention. Available at: https://publications.iarc.fr/586
- Global Cancer Observatory. (2020). Switzerland Cancer Factsheet. Globocan2020. Available at: https://gco.iarc.fr/today/data/factsheets/populations/756-switzerland-fact-sheets.pdf
- Mekuria AB, Erku DA, Belachew S. (2016). Preferred information sources and needs of cancer patients on disease symptoms and management: a cross-sectional study. Patient Prefer Adherence. 10:1991-1997. https://doi.org/10.2147/PPA.S116463