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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.

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. 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’

After treatment ends, you will have regular appointments to monitor your health, manage any long-term side effects and check that the cancer hasn’t come back or spread. You will also be able to discuss how you’re feeling and mention any concerns you may have. You may have blood tests, imaging scans or an endoscopy if necessary. However, routine tests have not been shown to be of benefit and are not recommended by current treatment guidelines.

How often you will need to see your doctor will depend on the level of monitoring needed for the type and stage of the cancer. You should also see a dietitian for advice about good nutrition. Check-ups will become less frequent if you have no further problems. Between follow-up appointments, let your doctor know immediately of any health problems. When a follow-up appointment or test is approaching, many people find that they think more about the cancer and may feel anxious. Talk to your treatment team or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for help.

For some people, stomach or oesophageal cancer does come back after treatment, which is known as a recurrence. If the cancer returns, you may have further treatment, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery. Sometimes people have palliative treatment to ease symptoms. Treatment may be similar to what you had after your initial diagnosis, or you may be offered a different type of treatment if the cancer comes back in another part of your body.

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 offers a free counselling service, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for more information.

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.