A cancer diagnosis can be traumatic and emotionally difficult to cope with. The same can be true when one transitions from active treatment to survivorship.

Coping with the Unspoken Emotional Challenges of Cancer Survivorship

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A cancer diagnosis can be traumatic and emotionally difficult to cope with.  The same can be true when one transitions from active treatment to survivorship.  Transitioning to survivorship elicits a different set of emotions, which translates to an adjustment to a “new normal.”  We have a misconception that finishing cancer treatment means everything instantly returns back to the way it was before the diagnosis, but the reality is that it doesn’t always work that way. Patients may still be recovering from the side effects of treatment and may not be able to jump right back into work, let alone start training for that marathon next month. Perhaps there is also now the stress of dealing with the increased financial burden of treatment. Often, people find themselves feeling two (or more) seemingly contradicting emotions at the same time: I feel relieved to be done with radiation and nervous that I won’t be monitored as closely. I feel grateful to be alive and grief for the parts of my life that have changed. It’s normal to feel anxious and depressed at times. So, how do you cope with those uncomfortable and conflicting emotions? 

Start by accepting yourself where you are. It’s okay to slow down a little. Remember, it’s normal to have mixed feelings. Take some time to develop a new routine and build in things that you find fun. Don’t take on too much and give yourself credit for your successes! Communicate openly about your feelings. Join a support group and share your story. Find a relaxation strategy that works for you. Mindfulness, meditation, music and art are all ways to help cope with stress.

Caregivers of cancer survivors may go through a similar yet different emotional adjustment to cancer treatment and survivorship. Using relaxation strategies can help caregivers as well as survivors cope with the emotional ups and downs of the journey. Don’t dismiss your own, or your loved one’s, emotions. Caregivers, as well as survivors, may find comfort in sharing their story. Let your loved one know you are open to listening to their feelings and support them in their endeavors.

Sometimes the adjustment to survivorship is more emotionally difficult than anticipated. That’s okay! If you find yourself losing interest in things you once enjoyed, feel sad most of the day or every day, are having trouble functioning in your day to day life, or are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, please reach out to a mental health professional. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. There is never any shame in asking for help. Joining a support group or seeking out counseling are great resources to process your feelings and increase your wellbeing.

Celebrate your journey. Celebrate survivorship. Celebrate yourself.