Ending treatment for cancer is supposed to be a joyful and happy time, one many survivors can’t wait for while they count down the days until they are done. And while there is much to be glad of about finishing treatment, many patients can feel unprepared and alone for the next part of their journey into healthy survivorship.
When survivors are in treatment, they feel like they are doing their “job” to keep cancer away just as the rest of the medical team is doing theirs. When treatment ends, much of the structure those appointments provided as well as the supportive contact with the medical staff is gone leaving individuals feeling alone and vulnerable. Survivors also note that it is not until after all the difficult physical aspects of treatment ended that they could pay any attention to the emotional toll of the experience. This can be especially complicated when the people around them—family, friends, coworkers – are excited and celebratory about the survivor “being done.” Survivors can feel as if they are the only ones not celebrating and are reluctant to talk about how they feel for fear of bringing others down or asking for more support when they perceive that everyone wants them to be “back to normal.” These feelings can be most acute in the first several months after treatment, during the transition phase of figuring out what it means to have survived cancer, but these feelings can continue for quite some time afterwards or be triggered by new events.
As survivors, the most common triggers for emotional distress are related to reminders that the experience of cancer may not be over or that cancer may come back. These triggers include any physical symptoms present when they were first diagnosed or any new symptoms that bring on worry about another cancer. Anniversaries of the date of diagnosis, surgery, and end of treatment can all bring on unexpected feelings—sometimes without the survivor even realizing that a significant date has come up. Other triggers include ongoing late effects of treatment that linger or are identified at a later point. These can bring on feelings of sadness, frustration, and even anger about not being able to put the experience behind them or uncertainty about what their new normal will look like.
The Simms Mann Center team can be of assistance at this time as you are beginning to chart your course into healthy survivorhood:
- Individual, couples, and family support to assist you in understanding and mapping your survivorship trajectory and learn appropriate mind/body strategies for dealing with the anxiety of scans and anniversaries
- Looking Ahead group to meet and connect with others who have also finished treatment and are working on moving on with their lives as survivors
- Information and support about normative impact of cancer treatment – cognitive, emotional, familial, and strategies to cope