Survivor's Guide
Living Well after Cancer

Understanding your Feelings

It's natural to have many different – and sometimes conflicting – feelings after cancer treatment ends. Although everyone's unique, many survivors have similar feelings.

Not everyone will have difficulties after their treatment finishes but, for many people, their concerns and fears are ongoing. You may need a lot of support – maybe even more than you did when you were diagnosed and during your treatment.

Common feelings
Relief: You might be relieved that the treatment has finished and seems to have been successful. You may feel happy to focus on your regular activities.

Isolation: One of the most common feelings people have is a sense of being on their own or loneliness. Many people feel isolated, abandoned or less secure when regular appointments with the health care team reduce or stop. This can be described as losing a security blanket or safety net. Changes to your relationships and feeling that other people can't relate to your experiences may also make you feel lonely.

Fear of recurrence: The most common fear is wondering if the cancer will return. It's often difficult to separate normal aches, pain and sickness from what may have previously been symptoms of cancer or side effects of treatment. This fear may never go away completely, but most survivors learn to manage it. 

Uncertainty: Many survivors find planning for the future difficult because they feel uncertain about their health. They may feel stuck because they want to do things but are too scared.

Frustration: Some people feel frustrated because they think their family and friends have unreasonable expectations. You may still feel sick and need extra support.

Anxiety about follow-ups: The uncertainty about the types of tests you will need, which health professionals you will see, and how often you will need check-ups can make you feel anxious.

Worry: You may have questions about how long side effects will last, how they can be managed, and if they will affect your work, social life, relationships and hobbies. Many survivors are also concerned about worrying their family or being a burden to them.

Lack of confidence: You may feel differently about your body and health. Many people say they feel vulnerable and less confident. They also don't trust their body because they feel it has let them down. You may wonder how you will cope with the changes to your body image and sexuality.

Anger: When you were diagnosed you may have focused on getting through the treatment, and now that it's over you can let go of your emotions. You may feel relieved that the active treatment is over but angry that the cancer experience isn't.

Accepting your feelings
Most people find they need time to reflect on what has happened and to consider their future. They are often too busy or unwell during treatment to do this.

Acknowledging how you're feeling may help you work through your emotions. Most cancer survivors find that they do feel better with time. However, you may be surprised to find that months or even years after treatment, you have periods of feeling down. This is common for many people who have recovered from cancer. 

Many friends and colleagues may advise you to ‘think positively'. This can be difficult when you're dealing with what has happened and how your life has changed. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that thinking positively has any impact on if, and for how long, you survive cancer. However, many survivors say that feeling hopeful helped them to cope through their illness.
Information reviewed by: 
 Dr Kate Webber, Cancer Survivorship Research Fellow and Medical Oncologist, NSW Cancer Survivors Centre; Kathy Chapman, Director, Health Strategies, Cancer Council NSW; Janine Deevy, Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Care Coordinator, Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, QLD; Dr Louisa Gianacas, Clinical Psychologist, Psycho-oncology Service, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Tina Gibson, Education and Support Officer, Cancer Council SA; A/Prof Michael Jefford, Senior Clinical Consultant at Cancer Council VIC, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Clinical Director, Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre, VIC; Annie Miller, Project Coordinator, Community Education Programs, Cancer Council NSW; Micah Peters, Project Officer, Education and Information, Cancer Council SA; Janine Porter-Steele, Clinical Nurse Manager, Kim Walters Choices, The Wesley Hospital, QLD; Ann Tocker, Cancer Voices; and A/Prof Jane Turner, Department of Psychiatry, University of Queensland.