Emotions after treatment - Maggie's Centres

Emotions after treatment


When cancer treatment finishes, you may have mixed feelings. Often people feel relief and a sense of achievement for getting through treatment. However, it’s not unusual to feel anxious about the future, and miss the frequent contact with your health care team. 

It takes time to recover from the emotional  effects of your treatment, as well as think about resuming normal day to day living. It can feel strange adjusting to life after cancer treatment, and many people talk about finding the ‘new normal’.

The information on this page will help you to find out more about adjusting to life after cancer treatment, and suggest ways to manage emotionally. (For practical issues after cancer treatment, read our section ‘after treatment for cancer’)

After cancer treatment finishes

From the time you were diagnosed, you may have been thinking about finishing your cancer treatment. Your treatment is likely to have taken weeks or months.  There may have been times when you were on intensive treatments, including surgery,  chemotherapy, radiotherapy.  Some people continue on daily medication for some years afterwards, as part of cancer management and recurrence prevention.

Whilst you’re on treatment, you may have had to put your life on hold, focusing on the practicalities around hospital visits, tests and scans. 

For a time, when treatment finishes, you may experience relief that it has now ended and that you can resume life as it was before. What sometimes surprises people is how things may have changed, within themselves, emotionally and physically. 

It’s not unusual to miss the regular healthcare team contact, and the reassurance that brings. You may find you’re worried about the cancer coming back, or how you might manage getting back to work or college. Relationships often grow closer during cancer, but sometimes the stress takes its toll.  You may not feel the same person you were before cancer.

It takes time to recover physically and emotionally from cancer treatment, and you may find that your family and friends think things will be back to normal quickly.  For many people it's more about finding your ‘new normal’ and this can be a time of adjustment.  (For practical issues after cancer treatment, read our section ‘after treatment for cancer’)

Your feelings after cancer treatment

The end of treatment can trigger a range of emotions. You may find that whilst you’re relieved the treatment phase has finished, you have concerns about the future. People often describe feeling worried about whether the cancer will come back, and how they’ll know what to look out for.  A future that felt so certain before, may suddenly feel less secure.

Sometimes, feelings you’ve kept under control during your treatment, may bubble to the surface. You’ve been through a life changing experience, and it may only be now that the reality of the diagnosis and treatment hits you. 

You may find your confidence levels have dipped - you’ve been through a great deal.  You may have physical changes to deal with, as a result of cancer and its treatments. There can be longer term effects of treatment, including scarring, fertility issues and radiotherapy side effects. Body confidence and self esteem can take a while to recover, and the sexual side of your relationship can be affected.

You may need to grieve for the old ‘you’, and the life before cancer. For many people, life does pick up as before, but having cancer can change the emotional landscape.  People often find they look at life, work and relationships differently - and the change in perspective can cause some anxiety.

Coping with your feelings after cancer

  • Talk to others about how you feel. Your family and friends may need to know that recovering from cancer treatment takes time, both emotionally and physically. Explain that even if you’re looking well on the outside, you’ve still got a lot going on. It can help to speak to a counsellor, your hospital team or one of Maggie's cancer support specialists about the emotions you’re experiencing.
  • Look at ways that you can take back some control. For months now, it may have felt that everything revolved around the cancer. It’s now about finding you again. The new ‘you’ may be thinking of looking at ways to prevent the cancer coming back. Your physical and emotional wellbeing is important. Looking at diet, exercise, stress management, life/work/family balance, and making time for you, can help.
  • Calling in at your local Maggie’s Centre can help you find ways to cope and move forward. Meeting others who understand how you feel can lift the emotional  burden.
  • It’s natural to feel anxious about the cancer coming back. Find out from the hospital team what you should be looking out for, and who to contact if you’re concerned. At first, it may be that every new ache or pain triggers alarm bells for you. This intense feeling does settle over time, but it can be many months before the worry reduces.
  • Ask about the ‘Where Now?’ courses, held in our Maggie’s Centres. ‘Where Now?’ is a six week course for anyone who has finished their cancer treatment, as well as their friends and family. It offers skills and techniques to support you through this transition period and beyond.
  • Find ways to relax and to care for you. Your confidence may be low, but getting out and about can help. Picking up old hobbies or exploring new activities can ease the way forward. 
  • Goal setting. It can help to set yourself realistic goals, and give yourself targets. It may only be walking for 15 minutes every day, or meeting a friend for coffee, planning a mini break, etc, but it gives something to aim for, and satisfaction when the goal is achieved.
  •  Keeping a journal, writing down how you feel, can be helpful. Putting feelings down on paper can clear the head, and help process the life changing events you’ve been through.

Calling into your local Maggie’s Centre can be a good first step to moving forward. You can talk with our cancer support specialists about your feelings after treatment, as well as practical ways to help build up your confidence and increase your wellbeing. Ask about our nutrition, exercise, relaxation  and support sessions (whether in groups or one to one). 

When to seek further help

There may be times when you could do with some extra help with how you’re feeling. It’s not uncommon to feel anxious or low in mood, but if the feelings are very intense, talk to your GP, and come in to one of our centres - you don't need a referral or an appointment. 


What now?

Have a look at our blogs and links on this page to find out more about moving forward after cancer treatment has finished.

Talk with others about what you are experiencing. It can help to hear that what you’re feeling is not unusual, and help you feel less alone.  Call into your local Maggie’s Centre, or join our online forums to connect with others in a similar position to yourself.


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