There are three key messages we would like to share, for information on emotional wellbeing after cancer:
- It is very normal to experience a range of emotions after treatment has finished.
- Seeking support can help you acknowledge and manage your feelings.
- Contact our 13 11 20 Cancer Information and Support Line to speak to a cancer nurse and ask about the Wellbeing after Cancer program.
For many people, often people have feelings of isolation, relief, uncertainty, worry, motivation, anger and other emotions. Remember that cancer can be a life changing experience and it is normal to feel a lot of things during and after treatment.
Life after cancer treatment can present its own challenges and you may even have mixed feelings when treatment ends. People often feel safer when they are closely monitored by the treatment team and may feel a bit lost when they do not see them as often. This is a common feeling, and we can support you during this time as you adjust to your life after cancer treatment.
It is important to allow yourself time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes, establish a new daily routine at your own pace, and seek support if you need it. Learning to acknowledge your feelings for what they are can be very important and your family and friends may also take time to adjust.
Fear of recurrence
Focus on what you can control, for example, being involved in your follow-up appointments and making changes to your lifestyle. Recognise the signs of distress, such as feeling anxious or sad, disturbed sleep or depression, and manage these in a healthy way.
Social support has been found to play a protective role in the fear of recurrence and you can try mindful meditation, relaxation or light exercise. Seek support from your doctor or call our 13 11 20 Cancer Information and Support Line to speak to a cancer nurse who can listen and discuss your concerns or refer you to a counselor.
Knowing what your distress level is (on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest distress) can be helpful in identifying what’s worrying you. The Distress Thermometer can be a useful tool to check in with how you’re feeling. This might help guide the conversation with one of our cancer nurses as you seek support, or even to check in with yourself from week to week.
Possible ways to connect with other people who have had similar experiences to you are:
- Join a Cancer Support Group which can be face-to-face, online or via phone
- Join the Cancer Council Online Community
- Sign up for a Life Now exercise and meditative course
Family and friends
When treatment ends, family and friends may also need time to adjust. Research shows that carers can have high levels of distress, even when treatment has finished, so we encourage family and friends to seek support by speaking to one of our cancer nurse’s by calling our 13 11 20 Cancer Information and Support Line.
It may help to tell your loved ones that the cancer experience does not stop when treatment ends and that your recovery is ongoing. You may need time to adjust and think about what you have been through and what it means to them too. They may not fully understand that you could still need support or that some symptoms can persist for long periods of time.
Cancer Council Life Now Program
Life Now’s free supportive cancer care courses can provide practical skills and techniques to help people cope with stress, improve wellbeing and quality of life. You may see an improvement in mood and sleep, as well as a reduction in anxiety, stress and fatigue. Life Now offers free evidence-based programs to support people living with cancer and their carers.
Some people choose to use complementary therapies such as complementary therapies massage and Reiki during and after treatment to help cope better with symptoms of cancer and/or side effects such as fatigue, nausea or pain caused by treatment.
Before starting any complementary therapies, it is important to speak to your doctor and follow their advice. If you would like to learn more about complementary therapies, speak to a cancer nurse on our 13 11 20 Cancer Information and Support Line or visit our complementary therapies page.
Useful resources and links
Resources, including booklets, podcasts and webinars, can be found on our Publications for Patients, family and friends page. Examples include:
- Emotions and Cancer booklet
- Life Now Meditation and Relaxation CD
- Living Well After Cancer booklet
- Living with Advanced Cancer booklet
- The Act-Belong-Commit guidelines for positive mental health provide a simple approach you can adopt to become more mentally healthy.
- Australian Music Therapy Association can provide contacts of professional music therapists. Music therapy is a research-based allied health profession in which music is used to actively support people as they aim to improve their health, functioning and well-being.
- ANZACATA is the peak professional body representing creative arts therapists in Australia, New Zealand and the Asia/Pacific region.
The expert content on this page has been informed by Iris Barten, Accredited Mental Health Social Worker (AMHSW) private practice practitioner and Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) member. Iris has been involved in Social Work in WA since graduating in 2004 as a mature aged student. She has worked in health care and currently combines her private practice work as a supervisor with AMHSW and working part-time in an acute hospital setting.