Life After Cancer Treatment for Young Adults

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/2019

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

Cancer treatment has been a major part of your life for some time. Now that treatment is over, your routines, emotions, and priorities will change again as you adjust to life after treatment.

You will likely notice that you are not quite the same as you were before cancer. Any major experience like cancer can make you see life in a new way. You might find that your priorities and goals have changed. You do not have cancer anymore, but you will always be a cancer survivor. You might feel happy, relieved, and excited that treatment is over, as well as many other emotions.

Short-term changes

You might feel:

  • Nervous about going back to work or school if you took time off.

  • Embarrassed about how you look, possibly because of scars from treatment or hair that has not grown back yet.

  • Upset that you cannot do some things you used to because of changes in your body, or because your body is still recovering.

  • Sad or lonely. You might miss the friends you made in treatment, your doctors and nurses, and any support groups you joined.

  • Guilty that you are getting better while some friends with cancer are not

  • Uncertain about your future

  • Scared that the cancer might come back

Changes in your daily life

You will probably spend much less time visiting the doctor. You might also be returning to school or work and have more free time for activities you enjoy. It is important to go back to activities only when you feel comfortable. Also, recognize that some things might not be the same. For example, you might have less energy or not enjoy certain activities as much anymore, or you might have some new friends and interests. Learn more about cancer and friendships.

You might also have financial concerns after treatment. Many people have difficulty paying for cancer treatment, even if they have insurance. You can talk with a social worker or financial counselor at the hospital or cancer center about your concerns. Many other resources are available to help with bills after you finish treatment.

Coping with changes after treatment

Here are some ways other young cancer survivors have coped with changes after treatment:

  • Keep talking about how you are feeling. Talk to a close family member or friend, someone on your health care team, or a counselor.

  • Write in a journal.

  • Keep in touch with people you met during your cancer treatment. You can also look forward to meeting new people in this new phase of life.

  • Attend a support group in person or online. You might be able to find one for teen or young adult cancer survivors.

  • Help other teens or young adults with cancer to share what you have learned.

  • Do things you enjoy. Consider exploring new activities and trying to master new skills.

Managing your health for the long term

You might be relieved to take a break from focusing on your health after treatment ends. But managing your health is still important. Here are some things to plan for as a survivor:

  • Follow-up care. You need regular follow-up care with your oncologist for at least a couple of years after treatment ends. This care includes checkups to make sure that the cancer has not come back and to learn how your body is recovering from treatment.

  • Watching for late effects. Your doctor will also look for late effects of treatment. These are side effects that happen months or years after cancer treatment.

  • Changing doctors. You will probably switch from your oncologist to your primary care doctor, or family doctor, sometime after treatment ends. If you do not have a primary care doctor, you can ask your oncologist to recommend someone. It is important to have a doctor who knows about the possible late effects of cancer in young adults. Or you can ask about follow-up care at a hospital or cancer center in your area. Some hospitals have programs that provide long-term care for cancer survivors.

  • Keeping your medical records. It is important to keep copies of your medical records from cancer treatment. The American Society of Clinical Oncology offers survivorship care plans to help you track the treatment you received and develop a care plan after treatment. Ask your health care team about getting copies of your medical records.

  • Keeping your health insurance. It is important to keep your health insurance after your cancer treatment ends. If you cannot get insurance through family, school, or a job, check the state or U.S. federal insurance exchange programs. According to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, young adults can stay on a parent’s health plan until age 26. Learn more at www.healthcare.gov.

Related Resources

From Teen to Survivor: Living With the Effects of Cancer Years Later

What Comes After Finishing Treatment: An Expert Q&A

Managing Late Effects of Childhood Cancer

More Information

LIVESTRONG: Your Survivorship Care Plan

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