At the end of treatment, many cancer survivors have mixed emotions: grateful for treatment but happy to be done; excited to move on, yet scared, worried, or anxious about the future.
Some people want to return to the life they were living the moment before their diagnosis; others reassess what's important and what's next.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) provides guidance for coping with life after cancer and staying healthy—both physically and mentally. Below are a few key takeaways to help survivors and their loved ones prepare for the next stage.
Talk to your health care team
It's likely that you already have a follow-up care plan, but if not, make sure to ask for one. There are also some additional things you and your care team can do.
Whether you're worried about symptoms you're experiencing or are anxious about your cancer returning, speak up. Your health care team can give you the facts about your type of cancer and the chances of it returning. Just talking about your symptoms may help calm your fears.
Also make sure to write down your questions and anxieties as they come up. This can help you manage your concerns and provide a useful list to help you manage your next follow-up.
However, if thoughts about cancer returning start to interfere with your daily life, you may want to reach out to a counselor or therapist who specializes in treating cancer survivors.
Take care of your mind and body
Eddie Harris, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer at just 25 years old, says his number one suggestion is to surround yourself with a good group of people.
"It was important for me to let those in my inner circle know what I was thinking and feeling in those first few months following treatments—and to tell them what I needed," Eddie says.
In addition to your family and friends, online and in-person support groups can offer an additional kind of help.
Limiting stress is also key for survivors. Relaxation exercises, meditation, and yoga can all help with stress management.
Amy Fenske, who is a survivor of stage IV melanoma, tries to stay in the moment to help manage her stress.
"Nothing has forced me into the present more than cancer," Amy says. "[My diagnosis] was a huge wake-up call to what's important."
Additionally, moderate exercise such as walking, biking, or swimming is a good way to feel better mentally and rebuild strength and endurance. Be sure to first check with your provider before starting or stopping any exercise routine.
Volunteering in your local community or even helping other cancer survivors or patients can be a good way to give back and feel connected. Some activities include joining or leading a support group, contributing to an advocacy effort, or participating in a clinical trial.
Before giving back, make sure you feel emotionally ready and are not pushing yourself.
Food for thought: What you eat matters
After your treatment, eating well can help you regain strength, rebuild tissue, and feel better overall. Here are some tips for healthy eating:
- Work with a dietitian to create a nutritious, balanced eating plan.
- Eat a variety of foods from all of the food groups.
- Choose high-fiber foods, such as whole-grain breads.
- Limit red meats.
- Limit alcohol to no more than one (for women) or two (for men) drinks per day.
For more information, check out NCI's resources for cancer survivors.