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Finding a “new normal”

When treatment ends, you may expect that life will soon return to normal. Or you may see the diagnosis as an opportunity to make changes to your life. Over time, cancer survivors often find a new way of living. This process is commonly called finding a new normal and it may take months or years.

Cancer is a life-changing experience

Most people say cancer is a life-changing experience. Although having cancer can be very challenging, some people find positive aspects. They may discover an inner strength they didn’t know they had, develop new friendships during treatment or find other sources of support. Cancer may prompt you to reconsider your outlook on life. This shift is often gradual; even positive change can take time. You may:

  • place more value on spending time with family or friends and choose to focus on the more meaningful relationships in your life
  • spend more time doing activities you enjoy, start new activities or visit new places
  • reconsider your career goals and work values, and decide to work fewer hours or take on a different role
  • have a new focus on healthy living.

Adjusting to life after treatment

The cancer experience doesn’t stop when treatment ends. Give yourself time to adjust to life after treatment. It can be helpful to take each day as it comes and accept that you may have both good and bad days. Everyone is different, but you may find some of the following suggestions useful.

Reflect on your life – Think about your goals and priorities. It may be helpful to write down how you’re feeling in a journal or to ask yourself:

  • What makes me feel fulfilled?
  • What makes me feel happy?
  • What gives my life meaning?
  • What is most important?

Look after yourself – Take the time you need to get used to any changes in your body. Do things at your own pace and rest between activities. Remember, your body is still healing. If you are worried about going out, ask someone to go with you.

Take time for yourself – Make time each day to do something you find relaxing or enjoyable. This could be reading, listening to music, spending time in nature or taking a bath.

Talk about your emotions – Acknowledge your feelings. It may help to share any concerns or worries with your family and friends, your doctor, a psychologist or counsellor.

Manage your wellness – Think about ways you can manage your own wellness and make changes to improve your quality of life. Eating healthy food and being physically active can help your body cope with physical and emotional stress, and make you feel as though you are doing something practical to help yourself.

Clear your mind – Complementary therapies, such as relaxation, yoga, mindfulness meditation and visualisation, may increase your sense of control, relieve  stress and anxiety, and improve mood.

Seek support – Connecting with others who have been through a similar experience may be helpful. Join a support group, attend a survivorship program, listen to survivorship webinars or read stories from other survivors.

Manage side effects – You may have ongoing side effects after treatment. Talk to your health care team about ways to improve or manage any symptoms

10 myths about the end of treatment

  1. I should be back to normal – You may have thought you would just resume your life exactly where you left off before the cancer diagnosis. The reality is often more complex. Some cancer survivors find they can’t or don’t want to go back to how life was before their treatment. Others need time to recover from treatment before they return to their usual activities.
  2. I should feel well – On the outside, you may look healthy. On the inside you may still be recovering physically and emotionally. Many cancer survivors have ongoing health concerns because of the cancer or treatment side effects.
  3. I should not need any more support – You may feel a bit lost when you stop seeing your treatment team, family and friends so often. Some survivors are surprised to find they need more support than ever after treatment ends.
  4. I should feel grateful – Survivors can sometimes feel pressure to be grateful for having survived cancer. Instead, the impact of cancer on your life and future may make you feel upset, angry or resentful.
  5. I should be celebrating – You may think that you should be happy because you survived the diagnosis and feel guilty or confused if you’re not happy all the time.
  6. I should feel positive – Friends and family may pressure you to think positively all the time. Although it is unrealistic to think positively all the time, this can be a
    source of worry for survivors.
  7. I should be the person I was before cancer – Many survivors say that cancer changes them. You may have a sense of loss for the person you once were or thought you’d be. It can also be difficult when the people around you expect you to return to how you were.
  8. I should be making plans – You may feel both excited and anxious when treatment ends. Many survivors need time to reflect on what has happened before they can think about the future.
  9. I should make big changes – You may feel guilty if you return to your pre-cancer way of life instead of making big changes to your way of life.

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Living Well After Cancer

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed November 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: Prof Michael Jefford, Medical Oncologist and Director, Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Lucy Bailey, Nurse Counsellor, Cancer Council Queensland; Philip Bullas, Consumer; Dr Kate Gunn, Clinical Psychologist and Senior Research Fellow, Department of Rural Health, University of South Australia, SA; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Prof David Joske, Clinical Haematologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and Clinical Professor of Medicine, The University of Western Australia, WA; Kim Kerin-Ayres, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cancer Survivorship, Concord Hospital, NSW; Sally Littlewood, Physiotherapist, Seymour Health, VIC; Georgina Lohse, Social Worker, GV Health, VIC; Melanie Moore, Exercise Physiologist and Clinical Supervisor, University of Canberra Cancer Wellness Clinic, ACT; June Savva, Senior Clinician Dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics, Monash Cancer Centre, Monash Health, VIC; Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko, Specialist General Practitioner and Research Fellow, University of New South Wales, NSW; Prof Janette Vardy, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre and Professor of Cancer Medicine, The University of Sydney, NSW; Lyndell Wills, Consumer.

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