Treatment side effects may reduce or disappear altogether; physical energy starts to rebuild, some people return to work, cancer becomes a less frequent topic of conversation.
Often after cancer treatment people try and continue with their lives where they left off, in the hope those weeks and months of trauma, panic, chaos and fear turn into vague memories of a distant past.
However, it is not always as simple and straightforward as that.
Cancer is a life-changing disease, and this includes life post-treatment. Anxiety, depression and even panic attacks are common.
What is going on after cancer treatment?
While every person with cancer will have a different experience and different way of coping with the emotional impact of treatment and having (had) the condition, there are common realities you may experience after cancer treatment:
- Delayed reaction to the trauma of diagnosis and treatment: often everything happens so fast that you do not have time to digest the enormity of what is happening to you. Post-treatment is often an anti-climax, when the emotional built-up is felt more strongly.
- The ending of regular medical care and appointments: many people will only have check-up appointments and are left feeling vulnerable without regular medical attention.
- Life around continues ‘as normal’ in the world, at home, at work, with your friends, while you have undergone one of the most life-changing experiences. You cannot go back to ‘normal’ and pretend your cancer never happened.
- Perhaps the most potent issue of all is that of uncertainty over whether the cancer is coming back. Most people will have been told the symptoms of secondary cancer, which depend on the nature of the initial cancer. Many react with a heightened sensitivity and alertness to any sign of discomfort. At least I do, some days are easier the others.
- Side effects of drugs: many people will decide to continue orthodox cancer treatment with drugs for many years, some of which may have side effects which are a constant reminder of the cancer.
- Some people will have experienced financial hardship during their cancer treatment due to their inability to work and pay bills, rent or a mortgage. Others are still not well enough to return to work, may never be able to return or proactively decide against returning to their previous work schedule.
- Others will have had less supportive relational experiences during their treatment from family and friends. It is not uncommon for some (for reasons of their own) to find it difficult to be around people with serious and terminal diseases.
This, all taken together, makes for a potent emotional mix of fear, uncertainty, anger, anxiety, depression, often leading to emotional exhaustion. This is why the emotional impact of cancer does not disappear post-treatment.
This is a common occurrence, and does not mean that the person finding themselves in this position has done anything wrong or failed, or has not done other things well enough.
It is to be expected that, sooner or later, you will fall into the proverbial black hole – probably several times. That is normal, too.