I Survived Cancer, Now What?

If you have been diag­nosed with and treat­ed for can­cer, you may have felt anx­i­ety, depres­sion and stress as you dealt with your con­di­tion. These are all com­plete­ly nor­mal and part of the path to recov­er. What is sur­pris­ing to some is that these feel­ings may not just go away once you are declared cancer-free. 

Here are some of the most com­mon stres­sors you may expe­ri­ence in your survivorship:

Fear of can­cer recur­rence

Con­cerns over can­cer return­ing are nor­mal, but they can become prob­lem­at­ic if they are long-last­ing. They may even impact your cur­rent health as you may find your­self avoid­ing fol­low-up care out of fear of receiv­ing bad news. Left unchecked, this fear can grow and become debil­i­tat­ing, so it is impor­tant to address and get help work­ing through them.

Survivor’s guilt

Through your life or the course of your treat­ment, you may have known some­one who had a sim­i­lar med­ical con­di­tion to you but did not live through it as you did. It might seem unfair to you that you sur­vived but oth­ers did not, cre­at­ing a great lev­el of guilt. It is also pos­si­ble to feel guilt over the lev­el of care and con­cern giv­en to you by fam­i­ly and friends, espe­cial­ly if you typ­i­cal­ly play the role of care­giv­er in oth­ers’ lives. Or you may feel bad that you have not lived up to the promis­es made to your­self while bat­tling can­cer. Though it man­i­fests in a mul­ti­tude of ways, survivor’s guilt is some­thing to seek guid­ance and sup­port on to nav­i­gate through it.

Phys­i­cal changes from can­cer treatment

Treat­ments, surg­eries and med­ica­tions can alter your phys­i­cal feel­ings and appear­ance. Hair tex­ture changes or loss, loss of mus­cle tone from inac­tiv­i­ty, scars and the loss of a body part, lack of sta­mi­na and weight gain or loss are some of the phys­i­cal changes that you may expe­ri­ence while under­go­ing can­cer treat­ment. These changes can have a big impact on your self-esteem and con­fi­dence as you become accus­tomed to your new cur­rent self.

Social anx­i­ety

Get­ting back into social sit­u­a­tions can cause angst as you may not feel up to answer­ing well-mean­ing ques­tions about your treat­ment and health. You may also feel self-con­scious about your phys­i­cal changes as well.

Exis­ten­tial concerns

Liv­ing through can­cer can cause you to recon­sid­er one’s pur­pose or mean­ing in day-to-day life, and to think more deeply about one’s pri­or­i­ties. It is not uncom­mon for sur­vivors to recon­sid­er and repri­or­i­tize parts of their life that no longer fit after sur­viv­ing a major ill­ness such as can­cer. Although these con­cerns can feel scary some­times to con­tem­plate, these exis­ten­tial issues may help pro­pel you to the next phase of your life.

Ways to Man­age Dis­tress and Anxiety

The good news is that there are ways to work through these neg­a­tive feel­ings so that you can thrive men­tal­ly post-can­cer. While every patient and sit­u­a­tion are dif­fer­ent fol­low­ing these tips can help you come to terms with over­com­ing these stressors.

  • Talk about your feel­ings – Be hon­est with your fam­i­ly and friends about what you are feel­ing. You need to have con­tin­ued sup­port in your life so that you can come to terms with all the health changes you have lived through.
  • Focus on what you can con­trol – Remem­ber that you are can­cer-free right now so keep doing what you can to stay healthy by keep­ing med­ical care appoint­ments, fol­low­ing your post-treat­ment plan, liv­ing a healthy lifestyle and stay­ing positive.
  • Find a way to relieve stress – Exer­cise, jour­nal­ing, crafts, read­ing, music, med­i­ta­tion are just some of the ways to relieve stress and let you enjoy your­self. Find things you love to do and sched­ule time to do them dur­ing the week so you can decom­press – your phys­i­cal and men­tal health will ben­e­fit from it.
  • Engage with a men­tal health provider – If your emo­tions do not sub­side, or even increase, it may be time to talk to a ther­a­pist. They can help you with the resources you need to suc­cess­ful­ly recov­er from the post-can­cer stress and anx­i­ety you are expe­ri­enc­ing so it does not become debil­i­tat­ing and derail you from liv­ing your life. It may be help­ful to spec­i­fy that you are look­ing for a ther­a­pist who has expe­ri­ence with can­cer sur­vivor­ship or oth­er health psy­chol­o­gy experience.
  • Con­nect with peer sup­port – While any sup­port is help­ful, it is espe­cial­ly impor­tant to con­nect with peer sup­port with­in the can­cer and sur­vivor­ship com­mu­ni­ties. Shar­ing with oth­ers who under­stand your spe­cif­ic jour­ney can help decrease feel­ings of iso­la­tion and anxiety.

If you are a can­cer sur­vivor expe­ri­enc­ing stress, anx­i­ety or depres­sion, sched­ule an appoint­ment today with one of our behav­ioral & men­tal health­care providers by call­ing 815−942−6323.

  • I have a passion for working with individuals living with chronic medical illness as a clinical health psychologist, and to help patients live healthier, more resilient lives while coping with medical difficulties. I have experience with a wide range of medical diagnoses, and specialize in individuals living with the special challenges of rare and/or genetic diseases. I believe that health is more than just the sum of our physical ailments, and aim to help clients develop and increase an overall sense of well-being in their daily lives.