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By Ackerman Cancer Center


Living Well as a Cancer Survivor

You’ve done it! You have reached the end of your cancer treatment and are an official cancer survivor. Of course, you long to return to a normal life, but how do you get from here to there?

Thanks to improved cancer screening practices and rates, early detection, and treatment advances, cancer survivorship is on the rise and with it new joys and challenges are also emerging. While many survivors say they enjoy stronger family bonds and a renewed appreciation of life, they may also struggle with fear and doubt. Below are some common emotions experienced by cancer survivors, as well as ways to deal with them:

Worry – even the most positive cancer survivor sometimes fears the big “C” may one day return. These feelings are perfectly normal, but it is important not to ignore them

  • What to do: Schedule (and keep!) follow-up screening and check-up appointments. Talk openly about your feelings with your healthcare provider or ask to speak with an oncology social worker.

Emotional turmoil – cancer survivors often experience a flurry of emotions including sadness, grief, depression or even guilt. These emotions often occur in response to adjusting to a new life. Some survivors feel sad or grieve for their old life. Others struggle with feelings they may have done something to cause their cancer, have been a physical or financial burden to loved ones, or simply survived when others did not.                                        

  • What to do: Acknowledge your feelings and give yourself permission to feel the way you do. Talk with a trusted friend or join a cancer support group. Cancer support groups provide a safe place where you can share your feelings with others who have been through a similar situation.

Confusion – uncertainty over your health future, anger over the changes brought about by cancer, and emotional or spiritual numbness or distress are other emotions cancer survivors sometimes struggle with.

  • What to do: These feelings, while common early on, should lessen as you move forward. Allow yourself time to work through your feelings and establish a new normal and look for ways to bring meaning back to your life.

Ackerman Cancer Center offers a wide range of support services for patients before, during and after cancer treatment. As mentioned above, cancer support groups can provide a safe place for you to share your feelings and learn from others. See our Wellness Calendar for a list of upcoming programs and dates.

If you are not comfortable with a group setting, our oncology social workers are available to meet with patients one-on-one to help you find ways to cope with these emotions. They can also connect you with an Ackerman Cancer Center BEAM Team member. The BEAM Team, which stands for Bravely Educating And Mentoring, is a group of cancer survivors who volunteer to share their personal stories and experiences with other patients and provide perspective on living with cancer.

The public health community is also looking at new ways to deal with the challenges of cancer survivorship. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lance Armstrong Foundation and other key partners have developed the National Action Plan for Cancer Survivorship: Advancing Public Health Strategies. Once implemented, it is hoped the Plan will increase awareness and stimulate action leading to improved quality of life for cancer survivors. The National Action Plan is available online here.

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