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  • Looking after yourself after treatment for pancreatic cancer

    Contents

    Cancer can cause physical and emotional strain. It’s important to try to look after your well-being as much as possible.

    Nutrition

    Eating healthy food can help you cope with treatment and side effects. A dietitian can help you manage special dietary needs or eating problems, and choose the best foods for your situation.

    For more information about nutrition call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or you can download the booklet Nutrition and Cancer.

    Staying active

    Physical activity may help to reduce tiredness, improve circulation and elevate mood. The amount and type of exercise you do depends on what you are used to, how you feel, and your doctor’s advice.

    For more information about exercise call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or you can download the booklet Exercise for people living with cancer.

    Complementary therapies

    These therapies are used with conventional medical treatments. You may have therapies such as massage, relaxation and acupuncture to increase your sense of control, decrease stress and anxiety, and improve your mood. Let your doctor know about any therapies you are using or thinking about trying as some may not be safe or evidence-based.

    Alternative therapies are used instead of conventional medical treatments. These therapies, such as coffee enemas and magnet therapy, can be harmful.

    For more information about complementary therapies call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or you can download the booklet Understanding Complementary Therapies.

    Relationship with others

    Having cancer can affect your relationships with family, friends and colleagues. This may be because cancer is stressful, tiring and upsetting, or as a result of more positive changes to your values, priorities or outlook on life.

    Give yourself time to adjust to what’s happening and do the same for others. People may deal with the cancer in different ways, for example by being overly positive, playing down fears or keeping a distance. It may be helpful to discuss your feelings with each other.

    Sexuality, intimacy and fertility

    Cancer can affect your sexuality in physical and emotional ways. The impact of these changes depends on many factors such as treatment and side effects, your self-confidence, and if you have a partner. Although sexual intercourse may not always be possible, closeness and sharing can still be part of your relationship.

    If you are able to have sex you may be advised to use certain types of contraception to protect your partner or avoid pregnancy, for a certain period of time. Your doctor will talk to you about the precautions to take. They will also tell you if treatment will affect your fertility permanently or temporarily. If having children is important to you, talk to your doctor before starting treatment.

    For more information on sexuality, intimacy and fertility call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or download the booklets Sexuality, Intimacy and CancerFertility and Cancer and Emotions and Cancer.

    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 if every ache and pain means the cancer is coming back.

    Some people say that they feel pressure to return to ‘normal life’, but they don’t want life to return to how it was before cancer. Take some time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes, and re-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.

    Dealing with feelings of sadness

    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 are able to get a Medicare rebate for sessions with a psychologist. Ask your doctor if you are eligible. Cancer Council SA has a free counselling service which offers you an opportunity to discuss your cancer experience and its impact on your life. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for more information.

    The organisation beyondblue have information about coping with depression and anxiety. Go to beyondblue or call 1300 224 636 to order a fact sheet.

    After treatment: follow-up

    After treatment you will need regular checkups to monitor your health and see whether the cancer has returned. 

    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. 

    What if the cancer returns?

    Unfortunately pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat, and it often comes back after treatment. This is known as a recurrence.

    Most of the time, surgery is not an option if you have a recurrence. Your doctors may recommend you have other types of treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

    If the medical team is unable to treat the cancer, treatments can be given to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life. 

    Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for more information.

    Living with advanced cancer

    Many people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer think about what will happen if or when the disease progresses. You may question how much more time you have to live and begin going over your life and what it has meant for you. These thoughts are natural.

    Being told that you have advanced cancer may bring up different emotions and reactions. You may not know what to say or think, or you may feel sadness, anger or disbelief. You might think:

    • Why me?
    • It’s not fair.
    • How long do I have left?
    • I am not ready to die. I have so many things I still want to do and achieve.
    • How can I stop this happening?
    • I don’t want to live anymore. What’s the point? I want it to be over now.

    Some days will be easier than others. There will be days when you feel tired and unsure, while other days you will have more energy and feel more optimistic.

    Some people find it important to stay hopeful during times of sadness or uncertainty. This may help you feel more able to deal with the situation. Your hopes may change over time – you may hope for a cure, to be around for a special event, or that your symptoms will be well controlled.

    You might find it helpful to talk a palliative care team about what you are going through. For example, your doctors and nurses can help you cope with symptoms and side effects. You may want to talk to a social worker, counsellor or pastoral care worker about your feelings.

    For more information call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or you can download the booklets Living with advanced cancer and Understanding palliative care.

    This website page was last reviewed and updated August 2017.

    Information last reviewed April 2016 by: A/Prof Nicholas Brook, Consultant Urological Surgeon, Royal Adelaide Hospital and Clinical Associate Professor in Surgery, University of Adelaide, SA; Prof Ian Davis, Professor of Medicine and Head of Eastern Health Clinical School, Monash University and Senior Oncologist, Eastern Health, VIC; A/Prof David Smith, Senior Research Fellow and Cancer Epidemiologist, Cancer Council NSW, NSW; A/Prof Peter Reaburn, Associate Professor in Exercise and Sport Sciences, CQU, QLD; Sylvia Burns, Senior Cancer Specialist, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Robyn Tucker, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Cancer Information and Support, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC.

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