Learning that you’re cancer free can be the most relieving words you hear after you’ve undergone treatment for cancer.
But as you move on with your life as a cancer survivor, it’s important to know that you may still deal with physical and emotional scars. Being prepared to adjust to life after cancer can help you ease your mind and keep you healthy. Here are steps you can take in the months ahead.
Craft a care plan. Talk with your healthcare provider about healthy changes you can make to your lifestyle. You might need more rest than before, but you should also ask about starting an exercise program. Several studies show physical activity can help reduce the risk for cancer recurrence and lengthen survivors’ lives.
Schedule follow-up visits. Regular visits help your provider keep tabs on your health. He or she will watch for signs your cancer has returned and for long-term side effects from your treatment. At first, you may return every 3 to 4 months, then once or twice per year. Ask your healthcare provider how often, and who, you should see. In some cases, you may switch to a center or program specially designed to care for cancer survivors.
Manage your side effects. Almost any therapy for cancer can have side effects. While some fade after treatment, others endure far longer. You might feel tired, gain or lose weight, or have a hard time concentrating or sleeping. Be sure to bring up any problems you encounter with your healthcare team.
Cope with your emotions. Fears about cancer returning are common. But instead of worrying on a negative, focus on things in your control, such as taking an active role in your follow-up care and getting a good balance of rest and exercise. In addition, almost everyone feels better with support. Yours might come from family members, friends, a support group, or counselors. If your provider suspects you have depression, medicine or talk therapy can help.
Stay in tune with your body. Between follow-up visits, take note of how you feel and any changes to your body. Share your observations at your next appointment. Ask your healthcare provider if any specific warning signs require an urgent call.
Be open with your family. Recovering from cancer takes time and involves the whole family. If needed, ask your provider or social worker to refer you to a counselor or therapist who can help you navigate these changes.