As a cancer survivor, there is a sense of relief you probably feel as your treatment is over. But you may also be confused about what’s next.
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While fighting cancer, you probably had an abundance of information and support, which comes with treatment. But now, as the cancer goes into remission, it’s common to have new questions and concerns.
“Cancer survivors face a variety of challenges after completing initial treatment. These include physical changes, functional challenges and psychosocial concerns,” says oncologist Halle Moore, MD, chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute Survivor Committee.
These concerns can come directly from the cancer itself or because of the treatment you received. Whether your treatment involved surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, biologic or hormonal treatments (or some combination of these), you may experience a variety of symptoms, even after treatment ends.
Cancer survivors’ top 13 concerns
From the time of your diagnosis, your healthcare team should be considering the concerns that could arise with cancer survivorship. For example, young men and women undergoing cancer treatments should consider options for fertility preservation, which the healthcare team usually needs to initiate prior to treatment.
According to Dr. Moore, common long-term concerns of cancer survivors may include one or more of these:
- chronic pain
- cognitive changes
- digestive problems
- mood imbalances
- weight loss or gain
- heart damage
- lung function
- impaired fertility
- risk of cancer recurrence
- risk of development of new cancers
You should be aware of the risks and benefits of various cancer treatments and the potential long-term effects, such as those listed above. As your healthcare team can anticipate the potential for symptoms, they can take measures to offset them. That’s important — that managing these symptoms begins when cancer treatment begins, and not when it ends.
How to cope with survivor concerns and challenges
A variety of interventions exist to help you manage the physical effects of cancer treatment. “Physical or occupational therapy can help in managing lymphedema after breast cancer treatments. Lifestyle changes that include diet and exercise may help with weight gain and fatigue,” Dr. Moore says.
Take advantage of available resources.
As a survivor, it’s important to remember that you have a variety of resources available to help you cope with emotional and psychosocial issues that arise after treatment.
- social workers in the healthcare setting
- cancer support groups
- online support groups
- mental health professionals
- hospital counselors
- support groups at your place of worship
Lean on family and friends.
Of course, family and friends can provide support as well. It’s important to reach out to your loved ones when you feel depressed or overwhelmed with worry and emotion.
The journey after cancer can feel lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. “Family members can help by having patience and understanding with the survivor and providing a safe place for him or her to share worries, sadness, fear and any other challenges they face,” Dr. Moore adds.
Pay attention to your body.
If you notice any signs and symptoms of cancer recurrence or symptoms of latent toxicities from treatment, don’t ignore them. “Tell your physician about any signs and symptoms that a recent illness or injury can’t explain and that persist for more than a couple of weeks. The doctor will assess these concerns and determine whether you need further evaluation,” she says.
Find your new normal.
After treatment, it’s not so much about getting back to the normal you knew before. It’s about finding a new normal that supports your recovery journey and all the challenges that go with it.