Cancer survivorship starts at the time of disease diagnosis and continues throughout the patient’s life. Survivorship is unique for each survivor. It may be "no signs of disease" for some or living through and beyond cancer for others. Regardless of how you define it, it’s important for you to consider how to transition and adjust to what being a cancer survivor means to you.
Surviving Cancer: What to Expect
At the end of active treatment, you may have mixed emotions, including relief that your treatment is over, as well as anxiety about the future. After treatment, the "safety net" of regular, frequent contact with the health care team ends. You may miss this source of support, especially because anxieties may surface at this time. Others may have physical challenges, psychological anxiety and sexual problems. Many survivors feel guilt, having lost friends or loved ones to the disease. Some survivors are uncertain about their future, while others experience discrimination at work or find that their social network feels inadequate. Find out more about coping with these concerns. Learn more about the next steps to take in survivorship.
Fear of Recurrence
Fear of recurrence (cancer that comes back after treatment) is common among most cancer survivors. It may lead a person to worry about common physical problems, such as a headaches, coughs and joint stiffness. It is hard to know what is "normal" and what needs to be reported to the doctor. Discussing the actual risk of recurrence with your doctor and the symptoms to report can often lower your anxiety. Maintaining a regular schedule of follow-up visits can also provide a sense of control. Although many cancer survivors describe feeling scared and nervous about routine follow-up visits and tests, these feelings may ease with time.
Learn more about post-treatment resources, workshops and support groups on CancerCare.org
When active treatment is over, you may need different types of support than you had before. Some friends may become closer, while others distance themselves. Families can become overprotective or may have exhausted their ability to be supportive. Relationship problems that may have been ignored before cancer can surface. The entire family is changed by the cancer experience in ways they may not be aware of. Recognizing and working through these changes are necessary to help you get the support you need, and some people find that counseling helps. Open and ongoing communication helps with adapting to life and shifting relationships after cancer. Learn more about relationships and cancer through resources offered on Cancer.net.
Getting Back to “Normal”
Returning to a regular work schedule is a sign of getting back to a normal routine and lifestyle. You may have taken time off for treatment and then returned to work afterwards, or perhaps you worked throughout treatment. You may not be able to return to work because of the effects of the cancer or its treatment.
Although many survivors can be as productive as they were before treatment, some find they are treated differently or unfairly. To learn more about dealing with workplace issues, please visit the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS). During and after treatment, it may be helpful to anticipate questions from co-workers, and decide how to answer these questions in advance. Co-workers may want to help, but not know how. It may be up to you to start the conversation and set the limits. When and how you choose to discuss your situation is a personal decision. Find out more about sharing your story.
To talk to others who are going or have gone through what you’re experiencing, the Us TOO Prostate Cancer toll-free helpline is a great place to start.