Cancer treatment can be very busy, with numerous inpatient and outpatient procedures, appointments and healthcare visits throughout the week. When treatment is over, you may find you have more time to process what has happened to you and often this is when the psychological impact of what you have been through begins to emerge.
Some people describe feeling pressure to “get back to normal” after cancer, whilst noticing that “normal” life has changed. Many of the treatments for cancer can be invasive, and the side-effects can be long-lasting.
Difficulties like fatigue, vomiting, nausea, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, hair loss, weight gain/loss, incontinence, pain and surgical loss of tissue can all persist, which can have a marked effect on psychological wellbeing and can also act as barriers for people returning to their preferred daily activities. “Chemo-brain” (a possible after-effect from chemotherapy and radiotherapy), whereby people can become forgetful, have difficulty multi-tasking, and
word-finding difficulties, can also be a cause of great distress, especially if this affects you at work and your relationships.
Some people can struggle with “survivor’s guilt”, or can feel pressure to be happy and grateful that they have survived. Often in society people are praised for being “strong” or a “fighter” when it comes to facing cancer. This can be really helpful for some people, and it can also put a pressure on for people to “be 0kay”, rather than acknowledge the range of difficult feelings that they may have about their cancer. Naming that you have difficult feelings about what you have been through, even though you have survived, can be an important step at helping you to manage these feelings, if they are present.
No longer seeing medical teams so frequently can be very anxiety provoking for some, who may feel “left” or “abandoned” by healthcare staff when they are still feeling vulnerable.
Some people find that they are unable to switch off from thinking about their cancer, or they might notice that things in their daily life might trigger distressing memories or feelings from their treatment, making it hard for them to get on with the things that they need to do.
Some people may not struggle after cancer treatment. Research has shown that many people find that having had an experience of cancer has enriched their life. For example, some people report having enhanced self-esteem, greater life appreciation, a greater sense of the meaning of life, heightened spirituality, and greater feelings of peacefulness and purposefulness.
No two cancer journeys are the same and therefore no one’s emotional journey will be the same either: It is all individual.
Some people who experience psychological difficulties following cancer treatment are at risk of developing longer term issues or mental health difficulties.
Research shows that without support, some psychological difficulties can influence a person’s quality of life, engagement with treatment, lifestyle choices and may lead to significant mental health difficulties.
There are a range of approaches that research has found can be helpful with managing psychological difficulties following cancer. Some of these approaches include peer support groups, support from cancer related charities, additional support from healthcare professionals involved in your care, as well as psychological therapy or counselling.
The approaches outlined above and the resources below may be a source of support if you are finding it difficult to manage your feelings or if you are feeling stuck.
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.