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Life after treatment: what happens next

One in seven people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer every single day but when those statistics become part of your personal reality, you’re thrown into the rollercoaster of working to get better, and have to deal with physical and emotional effects as an additional blow. And cancer doesn’t finish when the treatment does.

It makes sense that soon after diagnosis, you’re thrown into a brand new routine of prescription slips, appointments and waiting rooms, but once treatment is over and you can focus on recovery – what happens next? “You’re fixed now, everything can go back to normal!” But what is normal now?

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Recovery

Although for most illness, receiving treatment is what makes us feel better, cancer is different in that its treatment makes you feel a lot worse. Chemotherapy is toxic, radiotherapy dangerous and surgery all takes time to recover and heal from. Although used to battle the cancer itself, treatment can also put a huge amount of strain on the body. Furthermore, many experience difficulty in sleeping during and after cancer treatment and sleep is a huge part of helping the body recover.

As tempting as it might seem to dive right back in to where you left, you could find yourself failing before you’ve even started. Step one to getting your life back on track, and getting ‘back to normal’ (I hate that phrase – life after any serious diagnosis changes), starts with taking some well-deserved time to recharge, recover and recuperate. For some, this may only take a long weekend, but others may need months – take as much time as you need before you begin to rebuild.

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Rebuilding

For months, your life has been a whirlpool series of tests, appointments and treatments and faces you don’t always know, so wanting to regain control and stability after this is completely understandable.

For many, a diagnosis of cancer may have come when you didn’t feel particularly unwell. After a diagnosis and then treatment it’s important to recognise that again, your body has been through a lot and that you may have to re-learn sensations and know what ‘feels right’ for you. It’s normal to feel health anxiety after treatment. Does this pain mean the cancer’s back? What does that pain mean? Why do I feel like this? This anxiety is totally understandable, just remember that you’re not alone in feeling like this and there is a great community of people that can support and listen to your worries. Make sure you’re open with them and that you don’t pent any worries up – it’s always better to talk to someone.

Feelings of vulnerability and feeling as though you are under pressure to bounce back are also extremely common. Again, remembering that the support system of friends, family and your GP or specialist is available and using it when necessary can help you through the more difficult moments.

Many people (families, friends, co-workers) often don’t realise that recovery often takes longer than the treatment itself did. Let others know what you’re able to do as you recover, and what they should expect or not expect. Make sure you give yourself time to fully heal and don’t feel pressured to jump back into old habits or routines.

It can also be difficult to start moving from living from one appointment to the next, to living the rest of your life so switching suddenly to making plans over months in advance can bring on additional anxiety. Advice that we hear a lot is to make small plans, a little in advance, and then to grow that time in advance gradually. One achievable step at a time.

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Living with the new ‘normal’

Your experience of moving forward from cancer and adjusting to life after treatment has ended will be completely individual to you – everyone deals with it differently. In time, cancer may not be a huge part of your life but having that experience will certainly change the way that you see it.

You might want to do things you’ve always wanted to do, or get rid of things that no longer make you happy. Either way, it’s important to not let cancer consume your life.

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