Managing Your Emotions and Health After Cancer

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2018

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

During the past few months, or longer, your life has been centered around your cancer treatment and recovery. Now that treatment has ended, your routines, emotions, and priorities will likely change.

Understanding and coping with change

You may find that your experience with cancer makes you look at life in a new way. This perspective may cause you to change your priorities and goals. Here are some of the changes you can expect after treatment for cancer has ended.

  • Routine changes. It is likely that you will now be spending much less time visiting the doctor. If you were not attending school or working, you may be returning to school or work after treatment ends. You may also have more free time to do activities that you enjoy or to hang out with friends. But remember that you may not have the energy or ability to return to your normal routine right away. Ease back into activities when you feel comfortable. And recognize that some things may never be the same. That may seem discouraging, but you can view this as a new chapter in your life, full of possibilities.

  • Emotional changes. Along with changes to your routine, you may experience new emotions after finishing treatment. In addition to feeling happy, relieved, and excited, it is normal to experience some negative emotions during this transition period. These may include:

    • Fear that the cancer may return.

    • Anxiety about returning to work or school.

    • Insecurity about treatment-related changes to your body.

    • Frustration that your recovery is slower than you would like or that you cannot do some of the things you could do in the past.

    • Sadness about how your life may have been different if you had not been diagnosed with cancer.

    • Feeling lonely because you do not see your health care team as often or because you have grown apart from friends who you did not see often during your treatment.

    • Guilt that you are recovering while some of your friends with cancer are still in treatment.

    • Concern about medical bills and health insurance.

    • Uncertainty about your future.

  • Coping with change. Some young adults find that they need help coping with changes in their lives after cancer treatment ends. Here are some suggestions that have helped other young cancer survivors adjust:

    • Keep talking about how you are feeling with a close family member or friend, a member of your health care team, or a counselor.

    • Write in a journal to process your thoughts and emotions and to set goals.

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

    • Attend a support group in person or online. You might even consider one for young adult cancer survivors.

    • Find a way to help other young adults with cancer. You have learned a lot from your experience that you can share.

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

Managing your health

After cancer treatment, you may feel relieved to take a break from focusing on your health. But continuing to manage your health will be an important part of taking care of yourself. Here are some things to expect for the future:

  • Follow-up care. For the first couple of years after treatment, you will need regular follow-up care with your oncologist. This includes checkups to make sure that the cancer has not come back and to monitor how your body is recovering from treatment.

  • Late effects. An important reason to receive follow-up care is to look for late effects of treatment. Late effects are side effects that occur months or years after cancer treatment.

  • Changing doctors. At some point after treatment ends, you will probably switch from seeing your oncologist to seeing your primary care doctor. It is important that you see a doctor who knows about the possible late effects of cancer in young adults. Your oncologist can recommend doctors in your area. Or you can ask whether a hospital or cancer center in your area has a program that specializes in providing long-term follow-up care for cancer survivors.

  • Keeping your medical records. Along with getting regular checkups, it is important to keep a copy of your medical records. ASCO offers survivorship care plans to help keep track of the cancer treatment you received and develop a survivorship care plan once treatment is completed. Ask your health care team to help you get a paper and/or electronic copy of your medical record.

  • Health insurance. It is important to keep health insurance coverage even after you have completed cancer treatment. This may be difficult if recovering from cancer has kept you from getting insurance through school or a job. In these situations, young adults need to find other insurance coverage. One possibility is through state or federal insurance exchanges. Another is through a parent’s insurance. According to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, young adults can remain on their parent’s health plans until age 26, as long as a parent has health insurance. Learn more at www.healthcare.gov.

Related Resources

Life After Cancer

Financial Resources

Health Insurance

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