Surviving Cancer

Changes in Emotions

Just as cancer affects your physical health, it can affect the way you feel and act. Each person's experience with cancer is different, and the feelings and fears that you have are unique. Some typical emotions experienced by cancer survivors are fear, depression, stress, and loneliness.

Fear of Cancer Returning

Worrying that the cancer may come back is one of the most common fears among cancer survivors. As time goes by, this fear may lessen.

Long-term survivors are usually considered those who have had no signs of cancer five years after their initial diagnosis, when cancer recurrence becomes less likely. However, years after treatment, some events such as follow-up doctor's visits, symptoms similar to the ones you had before, or the illness of a family member can trigger concerns.

Ways to Cope With the Fear

Finding ways to cope with the fear of your cancer recurring can help you feel better.

  1. Stay positive and focus on what you can do now to stay as healthy as possible.
  2. Learn about your cancer and what you can do to take care of your body. This can give you a sense of control.
  3. Acknowledge your feelings of fear, anger, or sadness. This can help you sort them out and may help you let them go.
  4. Talk about your concerns with family, friends, other cancer survivors, or a counselor.
  5. Sort out your feelings by thinking about them or writing them down.
  6. Be as active as possible. This can help you focus on other things and take your mind off cancer and the worries it brings.
  7. Get out of the house and participate in activities that you enjoy.
  8. Take a walk or get some other type of exercise. Exercise also has many other health benefits.
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After treatment is over, feelings of anger and sadness may linger. For many survivors, these feelings lessen over time, but for others these feelings worsen and can interfere with their daily life. They may develop a condition called depression.

Although depression can affect anyone and is common among cancer survivors, older survivors are at a greater risk of developing depression than those who are younger. Some older adults lack social support often because they do not live near family members or have experienced loss of family or friends.

It is important for you to talk to your doctor about your feelings. If you are depressed, your doctor may prescribe medication or refer you to a therapist who is an expert in depression.

Learn how depression can affect older adults.

Do You Need Professional Help?

These are some signs that may indicate you need professional help for depression.

  • feelings of worry, sadness, or hopelessness that don't go away
  • feeling overwhelmed or out of control for long periods of time
  • crying for a long time or many times a day
  • thinking about hurting or killing yourself
  • loss of interest in usual activities

There are also physical signs of depression, which include unintended weight gain or loss not due to treatment, sleep problems, and fatigue that doesn't get better.

Dealing With Stress

Some cancer survivors feel stressed when they try to get their life back to normal after treatment ends. When you were diagnosed, you may have focused on getting better and put concerns such as those about family and finances aside. Now that treatment is over, you may feel pressured and overwhelmed as these issues begin to resurface.

Finding ways to reduce or control the stress in your life can make you feel better. Many survivors have found exercise, meditation, and relaxation techniques helpful. Taking time for yourself and devoting time to doing activities that you enjoy, such as reading, gardening, or listening to music, can also relieve stress.

Finding Support

Many cancer survivors feel as if others can't understand what they've been through, which makes it hard to relate to other people and can lead to loneliness. Friends and family might be unsure of how to help, and others may feel uncomfortable around you because they are afraid of cancer.

Joining a cancer support group could help you cope with the emotions that you have after cancer. By talking with other cancer survivors and listening to their experiences, you may learn new ways to deal with the problems that you are facing. Being in a group may also help you feel less alone.

There are many types of support groups for cancer survivors. Some focus on one type of cancer, while others are open to those with any cancer. Some groups include both cancer survivors and family members. Support groups may be led by health professionals or by other cancer survivors. You might need to visit one or two different support groups to find the right one for you.

Learn more about cancer support groups and where to find them.