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life after cancer treatment



It’s common to hear people who have been through cancer wondering when life will "get back to normal" or feeling the pressure of other people expecting them to "be normal again". This can be frustrating.

 

“Normal” can seem like a strange idea after everything you’ve been through. You’ve dealt with a huge challenge, and it would be unusual if cancer hadn’t had some impact on your life. You might be looking at things differently, have changed your priorities or simply not feel the same way about your life. It doesn’t mean things are worse – they could just be different.

 

Sometime the best way to respond to these feelings is to acknowledge that you’ll probably never be exactly the same. Too much has happened and inevitably there have been some changes. Instead, you can create what people call “a new normal".

 

A new normal is simply a post-treatment way of living your life. It can help to talk to a counsellor and explore what your new normal looks and feels like. The Redkite support team has years of experience talking with young adults and teenagers going through this. 

changing plans

 

Whether you had short-term goals or bigger life plans, these might now seem unattainable. At the same time, you might have been inspired by your experience to make changes in your life.

 

Whatever your experience, you may need time to rethink and redefine your plans. Again, the Redkite support team are here if you want to talk about how things have changed, and our education and career support team are also here for you.

cancer as a positive experience

It may sound unbelievable, especially if you're in the middle of treatment and reading this, but some young people talk about being able to see some benefits from their cancer experience. Common themes are feeling clearer about the things and people that matter to them, and realising how resilient they are.

 

Of course, this doesn’t happen to everyone, and it takes time. You might have heard the term “post-traumatic stress” and be interested to know that this experience has a label too: “post-traumatic growth”. 

feelings after treatment

People talk about having a lot of mixed emotions after treatment, from relief, to guilt, to fear, to wanting to fit in as many things in as possible.

 

These feelings are all normal, but if they’re pushing you a bit far or you think you’d like help understanding them, our support team can help

survivorship

At some point in your cancer experience, people will stop calling you a patient and might start referring to you as a "survivor". "Survivorship" is used by different people in different ways. Often it’s used to talk about the period just after active treatment and the common experiences that people who have had cancer treatment can face.

 

Giving this stage a name has helped some people find a sense of identity, celebrate what they’ve achieved and find support options specifically relating to survivorship. For others, it doesn’t quite fit. It’s up to you how you feel about using the term "survivor". 

relationships after cancer

When it comes to relationships and dating, talking about cancer can be a challenge. Common concerns for young people meeting new partners include:

  • Discussing fertility
  • Fears of a relapse
  • Physical problems or limitations as a result of your treatment
  • Worry that a new partner may be overwhelmed

As a general rule, honesty, patience and a sense of humour will always serve you well. It might also help to read about how others have managed these experiences – start by checking out Stupid Cancer. Of course, the Redkite support team is here if you want to talk. 

check-ups and appointments

Even when you’re officially finished with treatment and are just having routine check-ups, some people talk about the challenges of returning to the hospital or specialist offices where they were treated. No matter how standard these appointments are, they can easily cause anxiety as you may worry about what tests might show.

 

A few things that can help include:

  • Keeping copies of all your records and notes from appointments
  • Taking someone with you, if you feel comfortable to do that
  • Building a good relationship with a GP who knows your history
  • Seeing these regular check-ups as an opportunity to ask any questions or raise issues

We know this won’t make the anxiety of check-ups and appointments go away, but it might make the best of a tough situation.

 

late effects

The health issues that can sometimes come up after cancer treatment are known as "late effects". These are usually the result of cells being damaged by chemotherapy or radiation therapy. It’s important to remember that not everyone who has treatment will experience late effects and they don’t mean cancer has returned.

 

For people who do get late effects, they can range from very minor to quite complicated. They include dental problems, fertility issues, troubles with concentration and memory and even the risk of another type of cancer developing. The sort of late effects you may develop and the severity of them usually depends on a range of factors such as what treatment was given, at what age and for how long.

 

Remember, only some people will develop late effects. Many hospitals have a late effects clinic. Your medical team should also speak to you before you finish treatment about what you might expect and if there are any warning signs to look out for.

 

If you’re not connected with a late effects clinic, contact your treatment centre to see if they have one. Good late effects or long term follow up clinics will help you look after your health and wellbeing, not just check for problems.

 

moving from children’s to adult services

If you were young when you were first diagnosed, you probably had your treatment in a children’s hospital. Once you’re older, you may be at an adult hospital for treatment or follow up. The official term for this is "transitioning".

 

While children’s hospitals tend to only treat new patients up to the age of 16, there is no set age at which you transition to an adult service, and it won’t happen suddenly. Transitioning is considered a process and there’s a team there to help you do it over months or even years. Most hospitals have a transition coordinator who will assist you.

 

Even so, it can be daunting to suddenly find yourself in an unfamiliar hospital with a different team of doctors. For the first time, you might attend appointments without your parents and be completely responsible for your own health care.

 

Some things that can really help in this process:

  • Make sure you have a copy of all your medical records
  • Gather any other information you’ll need to explain your cancer and treatment
  • Talk to your transition coordinator or social worker about what to expect
  • Have a contact list of both your old and new doctors
Last updated September 2015.