Life after cancer

Kim Henderson
Reading time: 6 minutes

Finishing your cancer treatment can be a surprisingly difficult time for many people. Suddenly, it feels like you’re on your own. No more constant hospital visits. No more nurses gentle touch, making you feel cared for and supported. No more weekly blood tests, and reassurance that everything is going okay.

After spending day after day at hospital visits or oncologists appointments, you may now feel like you don’t know what to do with yourself.

Rainbow forms an arch over crashing waves
Photo by Ben Mack on Pexels

Life after cancer can be a challenging period of readjustment and reorientation. It’s not just a case of stepping back into your old life. Cancer has changed your life in many different ways, and it’s completely normal to feel confused or lost when your treatment has finished.

To build your confidence I have put together a few tips to help you feel empowered and ready to turn the page and embrace the next chapter of your life.

Develop a strong support network

Once the drama of your diagnosis is over, family and friends naturally begin to drift back into their own lives. But you may find you need others more than ever during this time.

Your family and friends are your number one fans. This being said, sometimes they struggle with knowing what to say or do to support you. This is where you need to empower them by letting them know what kind of support you now need. You may no longer need their help physically, but there may be new challenges that you are facing that require a different level of support. Be honest with them. Express how you feel and specify exactly how they can help during this period. Perhaps suggest a regular coffee catch up, or other outing. Even a regular phone call can really boost your spirits during a lonely spell.

During my reorientation period to ‘normal’ life, I found that regular chats with my oldest and dearest friends was the tonic I needed.

If you don’t have family or close friends, now is the time to look at joining a social club, hobby class or support group. You may wish to find a good counselor or psychologist to help you through the first few months post-cancer treatment.

Treat your body kindly

It’s inevitable that cancer treatment will affect your body in many ways. Your body may brandish scars, hair loss, weight loss or weight gain and rashes. Your body might feel different too. You may have lost a breast or other body parts. You might have numbness or tingling.

Your relationship with your body may become more complicated than ever before. Your feelings about your body can swing wildly from moment to moment.

In the beginning I found it hard to even look in the mirror at my body. But over time, I allowed myself more time to appreciate all that my body had been through. I repeated mantras each day, for example, “My body is strong”, “I am grateful for my healthy body”. I found the mantras were a doorway to showing compassion and appreciation for everything my body had been through. After a while, I didn’t need to say the mantras anymore. I felt acceptance and love for my changed body.

Make sure you treat yourself gently during this transition period. Make each bath or shower a ‘spa treatment’, using luxurious shower gel, rich moisturising cream or scented bath salts. Run your hands over your scars to get to know them and appreciate the power of your body to heal. Touching your scars can also help your brain to readjust to the different sensations, like tingling or numbness and helps your brain to accept the ‘new normal’ feeling.

Care for yourself

We often expect a lot of ourselves in a short amount of time. Having this expectation can be detrimental to our emotional and mental health. Keep things low-key by not scheduling a lot in your diary, saying ’no’ to social engagements when you are feeling tired, and making your well-being your priority.

Keeping a journal, listening to your favourite music, relaxing with a book, or meditating are all great ways to practice self care.

Other mood-boosting activities include going outside (try a walk around a nearby park), dancing (crank up your tunes and dance around the house), treating yourself to a bunch of your favourite flowers or a sweetly scented candle, making yourself a yummy fruit platter, or watching a funny movie and having a big belly laugh.

What’s next?

You may have worked or studied during your cancer treatment. If not, now may be the time to begin to think about a return to work or education. Take time to make this important decision when you feel ready to do so.

Talk to your employer, HR department or educator about how they can support you in your return. This might involve reduced hours, working from home or another form of support.

It may be difficult to see your work colleagues again after some time away, so perhaps ask your employer or a work colleague to speak to the others before you come, to save you the hassle of having to tell the story of what you’ve been through dozens of times on your first day.

Don’t underestimate the importance of returning to work. Besides the financial support, going back to work is a step in your return to normality, and can be a big boost for your self esteem.

Welcome to your life. There’s no turning back.

You are here. You matter. Your life is important. You are worthy. And you are loved.

Cancer was part of your life story. But it is not the story of your life. Cancer will not define you. But you can use your cancer experience as the launching pad for your beautiful new life.

What do you want going forward? Do you still have things to tick off your bucket list? Now is your time to shine. Now is the time to embrace your future and work towards creating the life you want.

Have you always wanted to learn to dance? Do it!

Have you always wanted to camp on the beach? Do it!

Have you always wanted to jump out of a plane? (with a parachute lol). Do it!

You don’t need to be afraid. You have faced something much scarier and come out the other side stronger and more resilient than ever. Grab life by both hands and enjoy it. What are you waiting for? Go get after it!

Peace. Unity. Love.