Life After Treatment

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 07/2014

Watch the "Moving Forward" video series for young adults from ASCO and the LIVESTRONG Foundation, adapted from this content.

Key Messages:

  • After treatment for cancer ends, it’s common to experience mixed emotions, such as relief that treatment is over and anxiety about what happens next.
  • You may also notice that you don’t feel quite the same way as before. You may view life, goals, and priorities differently, and you may need help coping with these changes.
  • It’s also important to be mindful of your future health and learn about keeping a record of your medical history. This information will be necessary for any doctors who care for you in the future.

Being finished with treatment is exciting, but it may also be challenging and even a bit frightening. During the last few months, or maybe longer, you have probably been focused on your cancer treatment and getting better. Returning to your normal routine after treatment will feel like a transition. You may need time and support to get used to physical changes, catch up with school, and make time for checkups.

Expect some changes

You'll probably find that you're not quite the same as you were before cancer. Any major experience like cancer often makes you look at your life in a new way. You may find that your priorities and goals have changed. You don't have cancer anymore, but being a cancer survivor will always be a part of who you are. Along with feeling happy, relieved, and excited that cancer treatment is over, it's normal to experience a range of different emotions. You may feel:

  • Nervous about going back to school
  • Embarrassed about how you look, possibly because of scars from treatment or hair that hasn't grown back yet
  • Upset that you can't do some of the things you used to because of changes in your body
  • Sad or lonely -- you may miss the friends you made in the hospital, your doctors and nurses, and any support groups you joined.
  • Guilty that you are recovering while some of your friends with cancer are not
  • Uncertain about your future
  • Scared that your cancer may come back

Coping with these changes

Some teens find that they need help coping with changes to their lives after cancer. Here are some suggestions that have helped other teens:

  • Keep talking about how you feel with a friend, parent, or counselor.
  • Keep in touch with other teens with cancer you've met, including friends you may have met in online support groups.
  • Consider joining a support group just for teenage cancer survivors or continue going to a group you already like.
  • Keep writing in your journal, or start a journal if you don't already have one.
  • Do things you enjoy that help you relax, such as listening to music, watching a favorite movie, or spending time with family or friends.

Keeping track of your health

Keeping an accurate record of your personal medical history is an important step in managing your health. Here are some things to consider as part of maintaining your long-term health.

Follow-up care. Follow-up care is getting regular screening tests and check-ups from doctors after treatment. Usually, you'll need regular (perhaps monthly) checkups with your cancer doctor (oncologist) to make sure that the cancer has not come back and to monitor how your body is recovering from treatment. Your oncologist can give you a plan for long-term follow-up care, including how often you'll need to see a doctor or nurse and any tests you may need in the future.

Watching for long-term side effects. An important reason to receive follow-up care is to look for long-term side effects called late effects or other complications of treatment. Talk with your doctor before treatment begins to learn which late effects you may experience and what can be done to lower the risks. The Children's Oncology Group has guidelines to help doctors and childhood and teenage cancer survivors recognize late effects.

Changing doctors. At some point after treatment ends, you'll probably switch from seeing your oncologist for all of your health care needs and return to your pediatrician or a doctor for young adults. It's important that you see a doctor who knows about the long-term effects of cancer in teens. Ask your oncologist to recommend doctors in your area. In addition, some hospitals and cancer centers have long-term follow-up care programs that specialize in follow-up care for childhood or teenage cancer survivors. Ask your oncologist if there is a specialized follow-up program in your area.

Keeping your medical records. Along with getting regular checkups, it's important to keep a copy of your medical records. Ask your doctor's office to help you get a copy of your medical records. You will probably have multiple medical records from different doctors.

Having your medical records is helpful if you go away to college, move, or change doctors. If you have additional tests, take new medications, or develop another health problem, this information will be added to your medical record. It is important to keep your medical record in a safe place at home.

More Information

Survivorship

Managing Late Effects of Childhood Cancer

For Teens