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Living Your Life After Cancer Treatment

Your Health / Conditions / Cancer / Living Your Life After Cancer Treatment

Published on Jul 31, 2020​​​​​​​
Authored by Pfizer Medical Team


After finishing cancer treatment, you may think that life will go back to the way it was before diagnosis. The truth is, adjusting to life after cancer treatment can take time. Even though treatment has ended, there still may be challenges and questions. Many people who finish cancer treatment may find they need to make adjustments in their lives. The information that follows can help you know what to expect and direct you to support that you may find helpful.

Your physical health may change

Even after treatment has ended, you may still experience some side effects for some time. These may include:

  • Fatigue, pain, and changes in your memory and concentration levels.
  • Body changes, such as scars, skin changes, and weight loss or gain.
  • Changes in your sex life and concerns about intimacy and fertility.

Some services can help you manage these and other physical changes you may be having. Talk with your healthcare team about the specific kinds of changes you are experiencing. They may suggest things like:

  • Physiotherapy—to help you regain your strength and flexibility.
  • Couples counselling—to help you and your partner communicate and to work through sex and intimacy issues.
  • Working with a nutritionist or dietician—to maintain a healthy diet and manage your weight.
  • Home care services—for help with household chores.

Make time to address your feelings

As a cancer survivor, you may also struggle with the emotional impact of the disease and treatment. Many people have feelings, including:

  • anger and grief about their experience with cancer.
  • anxiety about the cancer coming back.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to help manage these feelings, including:

  • Speak to your doctor about accessing affordable psychological support options through a mental health plan. Equipping yourself with knowledge and expert support may be able to calm some of your fears.
  • Keeping notes about any symptoms you may have and about your feelings. Share your notes with your healthcare team.
  • Find an online support community where you can speak to other people living with cancer and ask questions in a safe space. (e.g., Cancer Council’s Online Community).

Set your intentions to eat well and keep active

Healthy behaviours are especially important for cancer survivors. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Regular exercise. Many studies have shown that being physically active has an impact on the quality of life of cancer survivors. Studies also suggest that exercise can help speed recovery time from treatment side effects and lower the risk of cancer coming back. Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise program, and be sure to understand what you can and cannot do.
  • Healthy weight management is important. Being overweight or underweight can create complications Work with your healthcare team to determine your healthy weight and discuss ways you can get there and maintain it.
    Expert help from a nutritionist and physiotherapist or exercise physiologist specialising in cancer recovery may be helpful.
  • Food for thought. Some cancer treatments can change your appetite, preference for certain foods and your body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients. Discussing your needs with an expert can help. The Cancer Council has additional information on diet and exercise.

Plan ahead if you return to work

While going back to work can be exciting, it can also be challenging. If you decide to go back to work, some extra planning can make your return as smooth as possible. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Talk with your healthcare team about if and when you can return to work.
  • Work with your human resources department or your manager on a return to work strategy including the number of hours you can work, your need for medical appointments, the possibility of job sharing and working from home if your job allows this.
  • Make small changes to help with any limitations you may have. For example, take short breaks to help save energy, keep reminder lists to help manage your workload, and keep your manager informed of any concerns you may have.

Be open with your family and friends

  • It will take time for the people around you to adjust to the changes that cancer can bring.
  • When you’re comfortable doing so, talk with your family and friends about how you feel and what help you may need from them.
  • Plan ahead for what you will tell others about your cancer. Remember, you don’t have to say any more—or less—than you want to.

Have a follow-up plan

Sometimes you may struggle with keeping your follow-up medical appointments. You may be tired of dealing with cancer at this point and want to avoid any reminders of your experience. It’s important to understand that follow-up care is a critical part of your overall cancer treatment plan. Your healthcare team will look for any changes in your health and check to see if your cancer has returned or spread.

To help get you started, we’ve created a checklist of essential things to include in your follow-up plan. Keep all the information in one place like a folder so you can refer to it when you need to.

Talk with your healthcare team to learn more about your care plan after your treatment ends. They can tell you what signs and symptoms you should look for, address any concerns you may have, and let you know what to expect as you live your life after cancer treatment.

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  1. Georgina Wiley, Nicole Kinnane, Amanda Piper, et al. Survivorship care plans: toolkit. Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne
  2. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Providing high quality survivorship care in practice: an ASCO guide. American Society of Clinical Oncology; 2014.
  3. Rock CL, Doyle C, Demark-Wahnefried W, et al. Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors. Ca Cancer J Clin 2012; 62:242-274
  4. National Cancer Institute: Facing Forward, Life After Cancer Treatment.

Last reviewed: 19/08/2020

External Resources

-Australian Government Cancer Australia: Life After Cancer
-Cancer Council: Living well after cancer
-Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre: Common Survivorship issues directory

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