Coming to the end of cancer treatment can be a strange and difficult time. You may think that you should feel elated, but be overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, anxiety or disappointment. Other people around you may find this hard to understand, expecting you to be celebrating. This may lead to you feeling guilty: “I should be happy”, “I should be relieved”, “I should be able to get on with my life now”. These sorts of thoughts can leave you feeling as if you are going crazy or that no-one really understands what you are going through.
Why do I feel like this?
You may be surprised to hear that such feelings are very common for many people who have had cancer and that there are good reasons for these feelings. While you have been having treatment, you may have had a structure to your week e.g. regular chemotherapy trips to hospital. You may have found it easy to explain to others why you’re feeling unwell, e.g. because of treatment side effects. You may have had regular contact and felt well supported by your cancer team. The end of treatment can mean that these things are no longer in place.
Furthermore, it may not be possible for you to “get back to normal”. Your cancer and treatments may have left you physically changed, exhausted, in pain or with other ongoing symptoms such as nausea, poor appetite or weight gain. Mentally, you may also feel that things have changed – you may fear the cancer returning, even if you have been told that the cancer is now cured. You may worry about the future or simply have a sense that the world is not as safe a place as it once felt.
The good news is that all of these feelings are completely normal and understandable and that there are tried and tested practical and psychological approaches to help you to cope with these feelings. While returning to your old life unchanged may not be possible, it is possible to continue to live a fulfilling life after cancer.
For more information, click on the links below:
Gate control theory of pain leaflet (pdf)
We also recommend reading the following book which provides invaluable practical ways to cope with your feelings after cancer:
Goodhart, F., Atkins, L. (2013). The Cancer Survivor’s Companion. UK: Piatkus.