Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series on how patients manage emotions after cancer treatment. The first part was published Dec. 19.
Just as cancer treatment affects your physical health, it affects the way you feel, think, and do the things you like. Besides causing many emotions that may surprise you, the treatment may actually change the way your brain works.
Just as you need to take care of your body after treatment, you need to take care of your emotions. Each person’s experience with cancer is different, and the feelings, emotions and fears that you have are unique as well. The values you grew up with may affect how you think about and deal with cancer.
Some people may feel they have to be strong and protect their friends and families. Others seek support from loved ones. Others turn to their faith to help them cope. Some find help from counselors and others outside the family, while others do not feel comfortable with this approach.
Whatever you decide, it is important to do what’s right for you and not compare yourself to others.
Here are some common feelings people have had after cancer treatment:
- Guilt -- Some survivors have feelings of guilt following completion of cancer treatment. Guilt comes from thinking you are to blame for something. Some may think that they did something that caused the cancer. Others might feel guilty because they survived while others did not. Still others may worry that too much of a burden was placed on loved ones. Cancer survivors do not need to carry the burden of guilt. If you have these feelings, start by acknowledging them as the first step toward letting them go.
- Uncertainty -- Cancer can leave you feeling unsure about the future condition of your health. You may feel nervous before medical follow-up appointments. Ask your health care provider to help you develop a follow-up health care plan. A care plan may lessen feelings of uncertainty and help you know what to expect. Some survivors find that staying focused on the present is helpful as it can help avoid worry about things that may never happen.
- Anger -- Some may feel angry about how cancer affected their lives. They might now have new physical, financial or emotional challenges. A certain amount of anger is normal. Some may need help to get past strong feelings of anger.
- Emotional numbness -- The cancer experience can leave you feeling apathetic and unable to take on anything more. Some survivors protect themselves by shutting down their feelings for a period of time. This may be something you can get help with through counseling.
- Spiritual distress -- A belief system that helps you make sense out of the experiences of life is important to your well-being. A new search for meaning can begin when cancer is diagnosed. It may continue for many years after treatment is over. Some may redefine values and goals during this time and a search for what now gives life quality and meaning can take place. Talking with a loved one, clergyperson or hospital chaplain can be helpful as you go through this process.
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iTHRIVE is an online web application offered by Mission Hope Cancer Center to help people living with cancer to experience the best possible quality of life. It is a free, personalized wellness plan for cancer survivors to heal from treatment, reduce risk of recurrence and achieve optimal wellness. Contact Kim Neace, oncology nurse navigator, at 346-3469 to set up an appointment with the Mission Hope Survivorship Program and to receive your access code to log in to your iTHRIVE plan.
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Have a question for Your Cancer Answers, a weekly column produced by Marian Regional Medical Center, Cancer Program? Email it to email@example.com.