Managing difficult feelings following treatment

When cancer treatment finishes you might be aware of feeling lots of emotions; anger, sadness, guilt, fear, relief, hope, gratitude are perhaps a few. Some of these emotions can take people by surprise. Everyone’s experience of cancer and recovery will be different and depend on many factors such as aspects of treatment, side effects, psychological adjustment and personal circumstances. All of your feelings are understandable when you consider what you have been through and are dealing with.

It is not uncommon to struggle with anxiety and low mood after treatment has ended.
This can take people by surprise, particularly if you have never struggled with these difficulties before. The focus is often on getting through the treatment and when this ends you may begin to process what has happened and become more aware of the impact on your life. The Wellbeing Self-evaluation Tool can be helpful in identifying when you might need to seek further help. Accessing appropriate help and support can help people to cope with these difficulties.

The physical and emotional recovery following treatment is typically a gradual process and it may feel hard to adapt to a new way of life. When treatment ends, there may be an expectation for life to quickly return to the way it was previously and it might feel difficult to adjust to the changes in your life and to your body.

It is important to try to be kind to yourself and remind yourself that this can take time. Adjustment is not a single or linear process and sometimes the impact that cancer and its treatment has can take a while to show itself.

The time after treatment is typically an uncertain phase of returning to a ‘new normal’ and people can feel overwhelmed and distressed by all the changes. Making sense of these changes, overcoming obstacles, and integrating them in your life so you can move forward takes time.

This process is usually helped by gaining support from those around you such as your family, friends and healthcare team. For some, their experience can alter their outlook on life and they begin to think about life in a different way.

It is entirely natural and human to want to find meaning from your lived experience of the cancer. Such a difficult life event can force people to re-evaluate their lives, their sense of who they are, their purpose, relationships with others and goals in life.

During this period of transition you might feel lots of different emotions and whilst it can be a time when meaningful changes can occur, this can feel stressful, painful and difficult too.

Talking about your thoughts and feelings during times of significant change, can help you to understand what is happening and find ways to move in the direction you want to. You may want to talk about this with trusted family and friends, through support groups, more formal support through counselling or therapy.

Some people might find it harder to talk openly about their feelings, in these instances you may find you can express yourself more easily through writing or journaling.
There is no right or wrong and it is important to find what works for you.

Worrying about cancer coming back is a common concern for people who have been through cancer. Living with the uncertainty around this can feel really hard. You may find that you worry about whether the treatment has worked or whether cancer will return. Your future may suddenly feel uncertain and this can be very stressful. Some people feel like they have lost control and notice that you worry about lots of different things, which can feel overwhelming. Often these worries that come up are a way of trying to cope; to try to gain some control, get rid of it or fight it. Often these control strategies usually do not work as there is no obvious “answer”. This can then leave you feeling more distressed. Something that can be helpful is to try to focus on the things you can control and giving yourself permission to let go of the things you can’t control. This won’t get rid of the worries, but can help you to feel more confident that you are able to cope.

The uncertainty that follows the end of treatment can mean some people become hypervigilant for any symptoms or signs of cancer returning, which is understandable. Over time though this could become more of a problem if you notice you are spending lots of time checking or worrying about possible symptoms. It is challenging to try to maintain a balance between self-observation and attentiveness to your physical health alongside re-engaging in life in a way that feels meaningful for you.

Your healthcare team will be best placed to give the information about what signs or symptoms you need to be aware of, what symptoms might be side effects of the treatment, and when you should seek medical advice. Also, finding out what you can do to improve your health now might give you a greater sense of control over this.
If you have any concerns about signs or symptoms it is important to discuss them with your healthcare team.

It is common to experience periods of distress after you have finished treatment. It might feel difficult to know if this is a typical reaction that people have or something more serious. You can use the Wellbeing Self-evaluation Tool to help you identify when you might need to seek support and whom you might seek support from. If you have any concerns about your wellbeing it is important to seek help. You may want to discuss this with your family who can support you to get the help you need, or you may want to speak directly to members of your healthcare team or GP. What is important is that you try to communicate that you need help so the appropriate support and services can be sought.

If you are a family member of friend of someone affected by cancer you may be unsure how best to talk to and support your loved one. For further advice and support, Macmillan have developed this booklet.

Further support and help:

The advice on these pages is designed to help you prepare for the treatment ahead and support you through to recovery.

If you need further advice and support please discuss this with your key worker or healthcare professional.

  • Cardiff and Vale University Health Board Cancer support line:
    02920 745655  (9:00am to 12:30pm and 1:30pm to 4:00pm)
  • Macmillan Cancer Support:
    0808 808 00 00
  • Maggie’s Cardiff:
    029 2240 8024
  • Tenovus Cancer Care:
    0808 808 1010
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