Medical information, advice on symptoms, connections to support groups — resources for cancer patients abound to help them deal with a diagnosis and ensuing treatment. But what about the people who have already come out on the other side?
The American Cancer Society estimates that there are more than 15 million cancer survivors alive right now — and that’s just in our own country. With advances in screening and technology, more and more people are conquering cancer and living long, healthy lives. But cancer will always be a part of their reality.
What does being a survivor mean?
The term “cancer survivor” can be a complex one.
While it acknowledges the person’s defeat of a deadly disease, it doesn’t encompass the ongoing struggles that may exist in a life after cancer.
Fear of the disease’s return is a common theme among people in remission. That’s a worry that can permeate many aspects of one’s life — and can affect interpersonal relationships, daily motivation and plans for the future.
Guilt may also surface. A survivor may question the equity of his or her beating the disease, while other patients they met along their journey didn’t. Such ideas can produce feelings of shame that could threaten everything from one’s self-worth to self-esteem.
There are also practical complications of being a cancer survivor. How do you resume daily tasks after a body-altering surgery? What modifications do you need to make to your diet to maintain your health? How do you tackle the mountain of hospital bills?
Throughout the battle with cancer, patients are likely focused on the end game of beating the disease. But once that point is reached, then what happens?
Survivors of cancer need resources just as much as people who are actively fighting the disease.
For people who are comfortable seeking support in a social setting, there are many in-person groups where survivors can share stories, get questions answered, and find consolation and comfort with others who have been through similar journeys. Though no two cancer patients have had the exact same experience, connecting with someone who may be struggling with some of the same worries as you can be an empowering step forward.
Cancer.Net has an exhaustive list of national support groups for cancer survivors — which can be sorted by cancer type and other factors. The Association of Cancer Online Research also provides a collection of resources to connect survivors online.
In addition to seeking resources, survivors can also remember a few key points to help ease into life after cancer.
Stress reduction should be an important priority. Opening a new chapter would be stressful for anyone, but for people who are also dealing with the trauma of surviving cancer, those anxieties can be especially compounded. Self-care is an important stress-reducer — everything from scheduling time each week for a relaxing bubble bath to taking up or returning to the gym or even setting aside time to read before bed can give you a bit of needed “me time.”
Set new goals. Striving for, and eventually attaining, your objectives is both exciting and empowering. You may not have the same strengths or interests as you did before you fought cancer, so learn how to work best with your post-cancer self. Jot down a bucket list of things you want to accomplish — reconnecting with old friends, running a 5k, learning a new home-improvement skill — in the coming year and work step by step to get there.
Allow yourself to experience your emotions fully. Many survivors may be inclined, when they feel emotions like anger, worry and grief, to try to suppress them in favor of gratitude for beating cancer. Dealing openly with those feelings, however, can help survivors find closure — and find peace in a life after cancer.