Reclaiming the Self: The After-Cancer Emotions & Feelings  

Summary: There are many emotions and feelings that arise at the end of cancer and medical treatment that force patients to deal with things they had previously put on the back-burner, so to speak. Dealing with all feelings, whether negative or positive, is an important path on the journey to whole-self health and healing. Understanding that all people react and deal with life’s stressors and chaos in different ways will help patients, their caregivers, and friends to know that although they won their battle against the cancer itself, many now face a very personal mental battle getting back to fully being themselves. Here you can read up on some of the most common feelings and emotions cancer patients face at the end of their treatment.

After your treatment ends, and before your excitement begins, you may begin to feel emotions and feelings you were not expecting. In many cases, these emotions are positive and tell your warrior story of battling through cancer and winning in the end. You may experience euphoric feelings of health, serenity and being able to plan for your future due to you newly found inner strength. Or, if you are like many others, you may begin experiencing feelings that leave you feeling down, angry, alone, and overly emotional.

Some people describe the period of time after your cancer treatment ends as the most emotional time of their life. Even more so than after their original diagnosis. Many report that feelings from decades prior, or situations completely out of their control, are now returning to the forefront of their lives with just as many untouched and unfixed feelings. Allowing yourself the time needed to work through whatever feelings and emotions you are having is a very necessary part of healing through your journey. While you may not want to deal with the feelings of darkness, solitude and reality, the sooner you can pull yourself up and deal with these things, the sooner you will be able to move through and on to the future.

What should I expect after my treatment ends?

The end of your treatment could trigger any emotion you have ever had in your lifetime. While many having feelings of excitement about the future, an equal number of people feel fear of the unknown. There’s an instant feeling of relief that treatment is over, along with gratitude for your medical team and a renewed outlook on life. You may find yourself excited to get back to work, if you had taken time off, and find a new sense of purpose in your daily life.

The surprise for many comes when the first feelings of relief pass by, and they are left with uncomfortable feelings and unanswered questions. Worry may begin to creep into your life, and you may begin to start feeling angry about ever having cancer to begin with. The fear that without treatment, your cancer cells may begin to grow uncontrollably at random may stop you in your tracks. Once treatment ends, in most cases the medical establishments who worked with you on your bills and treatment plans will now begin to collect monies due. This can trigger intense stress and unease in any survivor’s life.

The feelings and emotions you may be having can be difficult for others to understand. While family and friends are there to help you celebrate your life and successful battle against cancer, they may not fully understand your worry or fear. You may be experiencing one or many of the most common feelings that many who have been in your shoes experience. Worry, sorrow and confusion are the most reported negative feelings after treatment. Some of these common feelings of worry are:

  • Fear of recurrence: It is common for survivors to feel fearful that cancer could come back. Talk with your health care provider about your concerns. Schedule regular follow-up health care and screenings.
  • Anxiety: Some survivors experience worry or anxiety right after treatment ends. You may have concerns about how cancer could affect your future.
  • Concerns about physical appearance: Physical changes during treatment may bring concerns about the way you look. There may be worries about what others might think. There can be a change in how you see yourself.

Sorrow is another feeling that many cancer patients and survivors deal with.

  • Sadness: Sadness is a very common response after treatment ends. This is often the time when cancer survivors have time to think about the changes that have happened from the time of their diagnosis to now. It is normal for survivors to feel sad as they adjust to the changes that have occurred. However, sadness should not last for a long time, and if it does, the patient should reach out to their doctor for extra help and guidance.
  • Depression: Change and loss can result in stress that begins to feel overwhelming. Long-term stressful situations can trigger depression. Depression can also be triggered from sadness that goes on for too long without intervention. Depression is a serious medical condition. It can be caused by or made worse by chemical changes in the brain. People who are depressed may need medical treatment to get better. Treatment can include medication, counseling and many holistic alternatives.
  • Grief: Grief is a natural response to loss that can last for quite some time. It generally comes with losing someone or something that has been important to you. In addition to a deep sadness, the grieving process may also include stages of denial and anger before one is able to reach a full acceptance of their loss. Many cancer survivors find comfort in talking with someone they trust such as a loved one, friend, fellow cancer-warrior, or counselor. A support group, licensed social worker can also help survivors and their loved ones deal with loss and grief that does not go away.
  • Guilt: Some survivors have feelings of guilt following completion of cancer treatment. Guilt comes from thinking that you are to blame for some aspect of your cancer diagnosis, or something you have done in your life. Some may think that they did something specific that caused the cancer. Others might feel guilt because they survived while others did not. Whatever the cause, guilt is a complicated emotion. Cancer survivors do not need to carry the burden of guilt. If you have these feelings, start by acknowledging them. This can be the first step towards letting guilt go. If you find yourself stuck dealing with these feelings, do not hesitate to reach out to your medical care team to help to ease the feelings of guilt, and thusly the stress, in your life.

Feelings of confusion can lead to more negative feelings and the overall sensation of not being ready to handle the future. Some feelings of confusion might be:

  • Uncertainty: Cancer can leave you feeling unsure about the future condition of your health. Most cancer survivors live with some feelings of uncertainty. For example, you may feel nervous before medical follow-up appointments and find that your blood pressure is higher than normal. An important date, such as the date of diagnosis or the date you completed treatment, might also bring these feelings out. Ask your health care provider to help you develop a follow-up health care plan. A care plan may lessen feelings of uncertainty and help you know what to expect. Some survivors find that staying focused on the present is helpful. Living this way can help you avoid worrying about things that may never happen.
  • Anger: Anger can range from mild irritation or frustration, to rage. Some survivors may feel angry about how cancer affected their lives or things they were forced to quit. They might have new physical, financial or emotional challenges. A certain amount of anger is normal. Yet some survivors may need help to get past strong feelings of anger and resentment.
  • Emotional numbness: The cancer experience can leave you feeling numb or without feelings. After the stress of treatment, you may feel unable to take on anything more. Some survivors protect themselves by shutting down their feelings for a while and only focusing on their personal healing. If you find yourself thinking that you no longer care, you may be experiencing emotional numbness.
  • Spiritual distress: A belief system that helps you make sense out of the experiences of life is important to your well-being. A new search for meaning can begin when cancer is diagnosed. It may continue for many years after cancer treatment is over. Spiritual distress can begin when life becomes very different from the way you thought it would be or should be, or different from what it was. Some survivors may redefine values and goals during such a time. A search for what now gives life quality and meaning can take place. Talking with a loved one, clergyperson or hospital chaplain can be helpful as you go through this process if you are a faith-based person.

It is important to remember that adjusting to life after cancer and treatment takes time, and the amount of time it will take is different for every person. Each person will need to have this period of adjustment time in their own way, with their own needs and methods. Overtime, the emotions and feelings that may be causing you strife now will eventually lessen, giving you grip back on your life that you have been waiting for. Sometimes, extra help may be needed to work through tough issues and that is to be expected.

If you are having emotions or feelings that are affecting your ability to live life to the fullest or get through the day, do reach out to your medical care team and let them know what you are going through.

Resources Used:


Reclaiming Intimacy

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