By Orion Talmay, for Happy Magazine.
Whether it’s chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery or something else, you’re going to experience a whole range of different — and unexpected — emotions after you finish cancer treatment.
Of course, some of these will be overwhelmingly positive; happiness, excitement, love, relief that your treatment is over, a sense of pride and strength.
But there are some emotions you might not expect after finishing cancer treatment — feelings that are more negative and upsetting that you’d have thought. It’s a confusing time, because you feel like you should be happy now that you’re ‘fixed’ and the trauma of treatment is over.
We’re here to let you know that whatever you’re feeling is completely normal, and experienced by cancer survivors across the world after treatment; whether it’s anger, loneliness or self-consciousness.
In the post below, we’ll be exploring the different emotions you might feel after cancer treatment, and ways to cope with these feelings.
Feelings you may experience after cancer treatment
It is impossible to know how you will feel after cancer treatment — everyone reacts in different ways and finds that their emotions manifest themselves in diverse forms. Many people feel relieved and happy, but many people also feel sad or confused.
It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel after cancer treatment.
Here are some of the more common emotions that people feel after cancer treatment:
After your cancer treatment ends, you can sometimes feel lonely. After all, you’ve been surrounded by people throughout your cancer journey and treatment, whether it’s your loved ones, or doctors and nurses.
When treatment ends and hospital visits become less frequent, it’s easy to feel less surrounded and supported — which can lead to loneliness. You may even feel abandoned by the medical professionals you’ve been spending so much time with.
You can also feel cut off from the people around you — such as your friends and family — after cancer treatment. Although they will try to help and relate to what you’re going through, they won’t understand completely, because they haven’t been through it themselves. This post has some great tips on beating feelings of loneliness post-treatment.
When you’re undergoing cancer treatment, everything else gets put on hold. This is because you’re focusing on your own health and recovery, but it can mean that when you come out of this cancer limbo, you may feel overwhelmed with stress.
Readjusting to normal life, picking up where you left off, and working your way through your new ‘life admin’ to-do list can make this chapter of your cancer journey stressful and overwhelming.
This stress can also manifest itself in anger — anger about life, anger about having cancer, anger about having to do all this readjusting that other people don’t have to do.
If the cancer treatment you’ve undergone has changed your physical appearance in any way — whether it’s hair loss through chemo, weight changes, mastectomy or something else — it can make you feel self-conscious.
This self-consciousness can have a big impact on your confidence and self-esteem, whether it’s in social situations or in a sexual relationship with your partner. You might not feel attractive any more, and no longer worthy of affection. It’s important to remember that these feelings will pass, and there are ways of working through these difficult emotions.
Anxiety and fear of recurrence
Fear, worry, and anxiety are normal to feel after cancer treatment. You’ve been through a traumatic experience, and the thought of cancer coming back can be terrifying.
This fear can manifest itself in feelings of anxiousness that can be overwhelming to start with. These feelings do tend to become easier over time, and there is also plenty of support available to help you deal with these emotions.
Sadness and depression
It is completely natural to feel a whole range of emotions when you’re on your cancer journey — including after treatment. Feelings of sadness and grief are totally normal.
However, sometimes these feelings can develop further, and your mental health can take a hit — especially if you’ve been dealing with such a huge upheaval in your life and life-changing illness.
You may not notice or realise that you have depression, but there are signs you can look for. If you are worried that you are suffering from depression, there is plenty of help that you can get; your situation is not hopeless. Millions of people around the world are affected by depression, so don’t feel like you are alone, or a failure.
Ways to cope with these feelings
There are many different ways that you can cope with all of the feelings above — and more.
Here are some of the things we’d recommend if you’re struggling with life after cancer treatment:
Ask for professional help
Although your friends and family can provide much-needed love and support, they may not be able to help with everything, especially if you’re dealing with mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
Seeing a therapist or counsellor will help you to make sense of your emotions and experiences, and learn to deal with them. Your doctor should be able to refer you to someone. If you are struggling with the impact your experiences have had on your love life and relationship, you can also work with a love coaching specialist.
Joining a support group can also help. Whether it’s local group therapy or an online community, talking to others who have experienced similar things will reassure you and give you extra emotional support. You may even find that you help others in their cancer journey.
Take care of your body
Taking care of your body will help you to feel more in control of your situation, and tackle feelings of anxiety, stress and self-consciousness.
Through healthy eating — a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables — you can help your body to recover and regain your strength. Eating plenty of high fibre foods, plenty of fruit and vegetables, and limiting your intake of red meat are all good tips for eating healthy after cancer.
It’s also a good idea to add regular exercise into your routine. This may seem difficult at first if your energy levels are low from treatment, but you can start off gently and ease yourself into a fitness routine. Even a short walk or gentle yoga session is a step in the right direction, and you can soon build it up. Check out this home yoga sequence by contributor Ruth from Yogaru for a gentle morning yoga practice.
Balance activity with good quality sleep: at least eight hours a day, or more if you need it.
Be open with your loved ones
Sometimes, we can feel isolated from our loved ones because our experiences differ, and we don’t think they’ll be able to relate. We can also feel guilty because we feel like a burden, or guilty because we are experiencing negative emotions, so we push people away and shut down when it comes to talking about our feelings.
It’s important to be honest with your loved ones. Tell them that you’re anxious or lonely or struggling; let them know you need their help and support.
Sometimes, people think that your cancer journey ends here because your treatment is over — they might need reminding that you need some love and care as you begin to rebuild your life.
Go to your follow-up tests and appointments
Follow-up tests and appointments can be scary, but going to them is important to check your health and set your mind at ease.
If you are suffering from anxiety, worry and fear that your cancer is coming back, regularly checking in with medical professionals will make you feel more knowledgeable and in control.
Don’t be afraid to use this time to ask any questions you may have about your health as well.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to how you feel after cancer treatment. We’ve covered some of the more common emotions that people go through after finishing treatment, but there are many more you might feel along the way.
How you feel may seem overwhelming, but there are ways that you can cope; be open, take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You will find your own way of coping and it will become easier with time.
Orion Talmay of Orion’s Method is a love, wellness and life coach. She loves helping women to feel empowered, fulfilled and to find their inner goddess — even in the midst of a cancer journey. For more from Orion, visit her website here.