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The end of cancer treatment is a new chapter in your life — one full of hope, excitement, and happiness. Surviving cancer is a major transition, and despite feelings of relief, you may also find yourself experiencing new changes, worries, and fears.
Just as each type of cancer is unique, the way that you cope with this transition is also highly personal. There are millions of people living in the US who have gotten through cancer, and no two people will navigate this time period exactly the same.
However, there are common concerns that you may encounter as you move forward as a survivor.
Will My Cancer Come Back?
Wondering if your cancer will come back (called cancer recurrence) can be scary. Even though your care team says you have no signs of cancer right now, you may have questions, such as:
- What are the chances it will come back?
- How will I know if it comes back?
- What will happen if it comes back?
These questions are all valid — and they’re all completely normal. Many people say their fear of cancer recurrence decreases over time. However, certain events, such as follow-up tests or learning about someone else’s recurrence, may cause you to worry again.
Here are some ways you can handle uncertainty as you move forward:
- Stay informed about your health — and make sure to keep up with your follow-up care plan.
- Share your concerns with your healthcare team, and be honest so they can address them adequately.
- Keep notes about any symptoms you experience, and talk to your healthcare team about ones that worry you.
- Maintain control over what you can, such as getting back to your normal routine, making healthy lifestyle changes, or taking up a new hobby.
- Find ways to relax, such as meditation, yoga, or art.
- Stay physically active to boost your mood and self-esteem.
- Talk to others about your fears, such as your family, friends, support group, or mental health professional.
- Take advantage of resources such as Psychiatry Services at UI Health and the UI Health Survivorship Program.
What Kind of Follow-Up Care Will I Need?
Follow-up care is critical to your health after beating cancer. After finishing treatment, you will still need to see your healthcare provider for regular medical checkups, which may involve:
- Bloodwork or other tests and procedures to look for changes in your health
- Monitoring and treating long-term side effects that you may experience
- Checking in on your emotional well-being
Once your treatment ends, you will receive a follow-up cancer care plan — a set of recommendations for cancer care after treatment. How often you return for follow-up care will depend on:
- The type of cancer you had
- The kind of treatment you received
- Your overall health
Even if you’re feeling well and your most recent tests showed no signs of cancer, it’s still important to go in for recommended follow-up care. This is to ensure your healthcare providers have a complete picture of your health.
During these appointments, tell your provider about concerns you have, including:
- Physical problems that interfere with your daily life, such as pain, fatigue, trouble sleeping, weight gain or loss, or problems with bladder, bowel, or sexual function
- Any new medications, vitamins, herbs, or supplements you’re taking
- Any changes in your family medical history, such as a cancer diagnosis in a family member
- Any emotional problems you’re experiencing, such as depression or anxiety
Keep in mind — a new symptom doesn’t necessarily mean that the cancer has returned. However, it’s important that your care team has a full picture of your well-being to keep you healthy.
How Can I Maintain an Overall Healthy Lifestyle?
After beating cancer, you may find yourself wanting to make lifestyle changes, such as eating healthier, reducing stress, and avoiding exposure to chemicals. These crucial adjustments can help keep the cancer from coming back as well as put you on a path toward a healthier lifestyle.
Talk to your care team about the best ways you can promote your physical and emotional well-being, such as:
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting how much alcohol you drink
- Getting to — and maintaining — a healthy weight
- Eating a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein
- Staying active, aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, biking, or swimming, each day. Depending on your individual situation, you may need to take special care in exercising, and it’s important to talk to your provider before beginning any exercise program.
How Can I Care For My Mental and Emotional Well-Being?
While you probably feel a sense of relief and gratitude after finishing treatment, you may also experience plenty of other emotions, such as sadness, anxiety, loneliness, and guilt. Your feelings may change from day to day or even hour to hour, and it’s important to remember that all of them are completely normal.
There are a variety of ways to cope with your emotions, so find what works for you. Some ideas include:
- Take time to express your feelings honestly and openly, whether it’s with close friends or family, a support group, or a mental health professional.
- Control what you can, such as returning to your daily routine, keeping up with follow-up appointments, and taking advantage of resources like the UI Health Survivorship Program.
- Find ways to relax, such as meditation, guided imagery, and relaxation exercises.
- Stay engaged in things you enjoy, such as a hobby, volunteer work, time with loved ones, or your career.
- Focus on the positive when you can, but allow yourself to have a bad day sometimes, too.
- Remember that cancer is not your fault — or anyone else’s. Feelings of guilt for beating cancer when others have not can be overwhelming. Just like many other emotions that come with cancer, these feelings will change over time.
- Remember the good news — you beat cancer and have the opportunity to lead a happy and fulfilling life.
Survivorship Support Services at UI Cancer Center
Wellness House at UI Health Mile Square
UI Cancer Center has partnered with Wellness House, an organization that offers psychosocial care for cancer survivors. Programs and classes through Wellness House help meet the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of cancer survivors and their families.
Programs offered at Wellness House include:
- Information & Education: Helpful information while dealing with cancer from updates on the latest treatments to help with insurance to learning how to manage side effects.
- Exercise & Nutrition: Classes for maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle, including nutrition, exercise sessions, and activities that help calm the body and mind.
- Stress Management: Classes and groups that help to lessen the stress caused by cancer, including meditation and self-expression through art and music.
- Child & Family Programs: Family programs that help children and families learn about cancer and how to express their feelings in a safe and welcoming place.
- Support Groups & Counseling: Weekly and monthly groups that offer a chance to share stories and experiences with others affected by cancer.
All programs at Wellness House are free for those affected by cancer, including loved ones providing support. Classes are taught in English, except the May Yoga class on Wednesdays, which is taught in Spanish.
Cancer Survivorship Program
Whether you’ve just been diagnosed, recently completed treatment, on active maintenance therapy, or have completed treatment years ago, you can receive survivorship care through the Survivorship Clinic at Mile Square.
Surviving cancer takes a determined effort, but you don’t have to do it alone. The UI Health Survivorship Program provides you with the resources you need to continue living a full life during and after your cancer care.
The goal of the Survivorship Program is to coordinate care between your cancer specialist and primary care physician to ensure all aspects of your health are being met. Everyone is different — and so is our personalized care that meets your unique needs.
The Survivorship Clinic offers:
- Screening for recurrent and new cancers, including additional screening needed as a result of your cancer and cancer treatments
- Monitoring for late effects of cancer and cancer treatments, including medical and psychosocial effects
- Interventions for the effects of cancer and its treatment, such as medication, specialty referrals, therapy, or other supportive care services
- Coordination of care between your cancer physicians and primary care provider
Young and A Survivor (YAAS!)
The Young and A Survivor (YAAS!) network was established in 2019 to ensure young women affected by breast cancer have the resources and support to meet the challenges of life after a cancer diagnosis.
YAAS! is a network of healthcare providers, community-based organizations, young survivors, and metastatic thrivers working together to bring resources and services to young women affected by breast cancer and their loved ones.
How Can I Help Other Patients Who Are Going Through Cancer Treatment?
Beating cancer is a major milestone — one that can be shared with your family, friends, and healthcare team. It can also be a valuable experience to share with others who are going through cancer, as you are able to offer support as well as hope.
There are many opportunities at UI Health Cancer Center to help others with cancer, such as: