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Life after treatment

For most people, the cancer experience doesn’t end on the last day of treatment. Life after cancer treatment can present its own challenges. You may have mixed feelings when treatment ends, and worry that every ache and pain means the cancer is coming back.

Some people say that they feel pressure to return to “normal life”. It is important to allow yourself time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes, and establish a new daily routine at your own pace. Your family and friends may also need time to adjust.

Cancer Council 13 11 20 can help you connect with other people who have had cancer, and provide you with information about the emotional and practical aspects of living well after cancer.

Download our booklet ‘Living Well after Cancer’

Being diagnosed with a rare cancer can be overwhelming. The physical changes that occur after treatment for bone cancer can affect your body image and self-esteem. It is natural to focus on the part of your body that has changed. Give yourself time to adapt to any changes in your appearance.

Limb-sparing surgery is a major operation that can leave a visible scar and skin tightness. If you have a limb amputated, it can take several months to feel comfortable with the prosthesis. You may avoid socialising with other people because of anxiety about how you look or because you find it difficult to move around. Physiotherapy can help you regain flexibility and improve movement.

Most people need emotional support before and after treatment, particularly if they have an amputation or a lot of bone is removed. You may feel emotions of grief and loss. Many people find it helps to talk things through with a counsellor, psychologist, friend or family member. Talk to your treating team or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 about support services available in your area.

After treatment, you will need check-ups every 3–12 months for several years to confirm that the cancer hasn’t come back and to help you manage any treatment side effects. You will have a physical examination, and may have further imaging scans.

How often you will need to see your doctor will vary depending on the type of bone cancer. Appointments will become less frequent if you have no further problems.

Let your doctor know immediately of any health problems between appointments. Your doctor will tell you about things to look for and what to do if you think the bone cancer has come back.

For some people, bone cancer does come back after treatment, which is known as a recurrence. The risk that bone cancer will recur is greater within the first five years after treatment. If the cancer does come back, treatment is likely to include a mix of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

In some cases of advanced bone cancer, treatment will focus on managing your symptoms and improving your quality of life without trying to cure the disease. Palliative treatment can relieve pain and help to manage other symptoms.

If you have continued feelings of sadness, have trouble getting up in the morning or have lost motivation to do things that previously gave you pleasure, you may be experiencing depression. This is quite common among people who have had cancer.

Talk to your GP, as counselling or medication – even for a short time – may help. Some people can get a Medicare rebate for sessions with a  psychologist. Ask your doctor if you are eligible. Cancer Council SA also runs a free counselling program.

For information about coping with depression and anxiety, call Beyond Blue on
1300 22 4636 or visit beyondblue.org.au. For 24-hour crisis support, call Lifeline 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.

Featured resource

Understanding Primary Bone Cancer

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed June 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Richard Boyle, Orthopaedic Oncology Surgeon, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Dr Sarat Chander, Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; James Hyett, Consumer; Rebecca James, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Warren Joubert, Senior Staff Specialist Medical Oncology, Division of Cancer Services, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Kristyn Schilling, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Cancer Outreach Program, St George Hospital, NSW; Prof Paul N Smith, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Orthopaedics ACT.