ON THIS PAGE: You will read about how to cope with challenges in everyday life after a cancer diagnosis. Use the menu to see other pages.
What is survivorship?
The word “survivorship” is complicated because it means different things to different people. Common definitions include:
Having no signs of cancer after finishing treatment.
Living with, through, and beyond cancer. According to this definition, cancer survivorship begins at diagnosis and continues during treatment and through the rest of a person’s life.
For some, even the term “survivorship” does not feel right, and they prefer to use different language to describe and define their experience. Sometimes extended treatment will be used for months or years to manage or control cancer. Living with cancer indefinitely is not easy, and the health care team can help you manage the challenges that come with it. Everyone has to find their own path to name and navigate the changes and challenges that are the results of their cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Survivors may experience a mixture of feelings, including joy, concern, relief, guilt, and fear. Some people say they appreciate life more after a cancer diagnosis and have gained a greater acceptance of themselves. Some people may prefer to put the experience behind them and feel that their lives have not changed in a major way. Others become very anxious about their health and are uncertain about coping with everyday life. Feelings of fear and anxiety may still occur as time passes, but these emotions should not be a constant part of your daily life. If they persist, be sure to talk with a member of your health care team.
Survivors may feel some stress when their frequent visits to the health care team end after completing treatment. Often, relationships built with the cancer care team provide a sense of security during treatment, and people miss this source of support. This may be especially true when new worries and challenges surface over time, such as any late effects of treatment, emotional challenges such as fear of recurrence, sexual health and fertility concerns, and financial and workplace issues.
Every survivor has individual concerns and challenges. With any challenge, a good first step is being able to recognize your fears and talk about them. Effective coping requires:
Understanding the challenge you are facing
Thinking through solutions
Asking for and allowing the support of others
Feeling comfortable with the course of action you choose
Many survivors find it helpful to join an in-person support group or an online community of survivors. This allows you to talk with people who have had similar first-hand experiences. Other options for finding support include talking with a friend or member of your health care team, individual counseling, or asking for assistance at the learning resource center of the place where you received treatment.
A new perspective on your health
For many people, survivorship serves as a strong motivator to make lifestyle changes.
People recovering from early-stage and locally advanced breast cancer are encouraged to follow established guidelines for good health, such as not smoking, limiting alcohol, eating well, exercising regularly, managing stress, and reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. Regular physical activity can help rebuild your strength and energy level. Your health care team can help you create an appropriate exercise plan based upon your needs, physical abilities, and fitness level. Many people find it easier to stick with an exercise program with a partner. Consider asking your spouse/partner or a friend to join you. Learn more about making healthy lifestyle choices.
It is important to have recommended medical checkups and tests (see Follow-Up Care and Monitoring) to take care of your health.
Talk with your health care team to develop a survivorship care plan that is best for your needs.
Changing role of caregivers
Family members and friends may also go through periods of transition. A caregiver plays a very important role in supporting a person diagnosed with cancer, providing physical, emotional, and practical care on a daily or as-needed basis. Many caregivers become focused on providing this support, especially if the treatment period lasts for many months or longer.
However, as treatment is completed, the caregiver's role often changes. Eventually, the need for caregiving related to the cancer diagnosis will become much less or come to an end. Caregivers can learn more about adjusting to life after caregiving.
Looking for More Survivorship Resources?
For more information about cancer survivorship, explore these related items. Please note that these links will take you to other sections of Cancer.Net:
ASCO Answers Guide to Cancer Survivorship: Get this 48-page booklet that helps people transition into life after treatment. It includes blank treatment summary and survivorship care plan forms. The free booklet is available as a PDF, so it is easy to print.
Survivorship Resources: Cancer.Net offers information and resources to help survivors cope, including specific sections for children, teens and young adults, and people over age 65. There is also a main section on survivorship for people of all ages.
The next section offers Questions to Ask the Health Care Team to help start conversations with your cancer care team. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.