Three key messages
- It is very normal to experience a range of emotions after treatment has finished.
- Seeking support can help you acknowledge and manage your feelings.
- Contact 13 11 20 to speak to a Cancer Nurse and ask about the Wellbeing after Cancer program.
For most people, the cancer experience does not end on the last day of treatment with many feeling anxious or fearful about the cancer returning. Many people also have feelings of isolation, relief, uncertainty, worry, motivation, anger and other emotions. Remember that cancer can be a life changing experience and it is normal to feel a lot of things during and after treatment.
Life after cancer treatment can present its own challenges and you may even have mixed feelings when treatment ends. People often feel safer when they are closely monitored by the treatment team and may feel a bit lost when they do not see them as often. This is a common feeling that many people go through. We can support you during this time as you adjust to your life after cancer treatment.
It is important to allow yourself time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes, establish a new daily routine at your own pace, and seek support if you need it. Learning to acknowledge your feelings for what they are can be very important in such a tumultuous time. Your family and friends may also take time to adjust.
To help you and your loved ones adjust, please submit a Request a Wellbeing after Cancer Callback form and a Wellbeing after Cancer Registered Nurse will contact you.
Fear of recurrence
Feeling anxious or frightened about the cancer coming back (recurrence) is a common challenge and one of the greatest concerns for cancer survivors. Most cancer survivors are likely to experience this fear to some degree and it may come and go for many years.
Focus on what you can control – for example, being involved in your follow-up appointments and making changes to your lifestyle. Recognise the signs of distress, such as feeling anxious or sad, disturbed sleep or depression, and manage these in a healthy way. Social support has been found to play a protective role in the fear of recurrence. For example, you could try mindful meditation, relaxation or light exercise, and seek support from your doctor. Or call 13 11 20 to speak to a Cancer Nurse who can listen and discuss your concerns or refer you to a counsellor.
Knowing what your distress level is (on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest distress) can be helpful in identifying what’s worrying you. The Distress Thermometer (pdf, 138kb) can be a useful tool to check in with how you’re feeling. This might help guide the conversation with one of our cancer nurses as you seek support, or even to check in with yourself from week to week.
Other suggested ways to reach out and connect with other people who have had similar experiences to you are:
- Join a Cancer Support Group which can be face-to-face, online or via telephone;
- Join the Cancer Council Online Community;
- Sign up for a Life Now exercise and meditative course.
Family and friends
When treatment ends, family and friends also need time to adjust. Research shows that carers can have high levels of distress, even when treatment has finished, so we encourage family and friends to seek support by speaking to a Cancer Nurse by calling 13 11 20.
It may help to tell your loved ones that the cancer experience does not stop when treatment ends and that your recovery is ongoing. You may need time to adjust and think about what you have been through and what it means to them too. They may not fully understand that you could still need support or that some symptoms can persist for long periods of time.
Cancer Council Life Now Program
Life Now offers free evidence-based programs to support people living with cancer and their carers. These programs are run by qualified senior instructors and operate in both metropolitan and regional WA.
Life Now enable people affected by cancer to experience the benefits of keeping mentally and physically active. Our mindfulness, mindful art, meditation, tai chi, yoga and exercise programs provide an introduction to activities in a safe and supportive group environment. Our programs are designed to empower participants with valuable skills and techniques that they can draw on to help manage their stress and other cancer-related symptoms.
Studies have shown that keeping physically active during and after cancer treatment can help reduce fatigue, improve cardiovascular fitness and increase muscle strength, bone density, flexibility, balance and coordination.
Current research also suggests that regular participation in meditative programs can lead to improvements in sleep quality, mood and wellbeing, and reductions in depression, anxiety, stress and fatigue.
Life Now programs are an important part of Cancer Council WA's commitment to supportive cancer care and can be accessed by calling 13 11 20 and speaking to a cancer nurse.
Some people choose to use complementary therapies such as yoga, mindfulness, massage and reiki during and after treatment to help cope better with symptoms of cancer and/or side effects such as fatigue, nausea or pain caused by treatment.
Before starting any complementary therapies it is important to speak to your doctor and follow their advice. If you would like to learn more about complementary therapies, speak to a Cancer Nurse on 13 11 20 or visit our complementary therapies page.
- Further useful resources, including booklets, podcasts and webinars, can be found on our Publications for Patients, family and friends page. Examples include:
- Emotions and Cancer booklet;
- Life Now Meditation and Relaxation CD;
- Living Well After Cancer booklet; and
- Living with Advanced Cancer booklet.
- The Act-Belong-Commit guidelines for positive mental health provide a simple approach you can adopt to become more mentally healthy.
- Australian Music Therapy Association can provide contacts of professional music therapists. Music therapy is a research-based allied health profession in which music is used to actively support people as they aim to improve their health, functioning and well-being.
- ANZACATA is the peak professional body representing creative arts therapists in Australia, New Zealand and the Asia/Pacific region.
The expert content on this page has been informed by Iris Barten, Accredited Mental Health Social Worker (AMHSW) private practice practitioner and Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) member. Iris has been involved in Social Work in WA since graduating in 2004 as a mature aged student. She has worked in health care and currently combines her private practice work as a supervisor with AMHSW, and working part-time in an acute hospital setting.