Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part 2 will publish Dec. 26.

QUESTION: How do cancer patients manage emotions after treatment? 

After treatment is done, you can experience a mix of reactions. Often the emotions are positive. You may have discovered new personal strength and deepened relationships with love done during treatment. Your friends and family are happy for you and want you to return to life as it was before cancer.

But there can also be feelings that aren’t positive. Some describe the period after cancer treatment as one of the most emotional times of their lives. This can be confusing. Most cancer patients are not surprised by strong emotions during treatment, however, they can be surprised when new or old emotions occur after treatment is completed. Understanding these feelings can help you manage them.

When cancer treatment ends, you may feel excited about the future. There is relief that treatment is over and some survivors report a sense of gratitude and renewed wonder about life. Others describe a deepened closeness to loved ones and friends. Often there is a desire to meet new goals and get the most out of life.

There may be uncomfortable feelings and unanswered questions as you may have more time to think about things than you did during treatment. You may feel angry about having cancer and some begin to worry about the unknowns of the future. Some feel concerned that they are no longer receiving treatment to get rid of cancer cells and there can be financial concerns or regrets about having had to rely on others for help and support.

Dealing with difficult feelings when those close to you are celebrating your success can be confusing. Talk with them about how you are feeling and help them better understand your experience.

The following are some common emotions that can occur after treatment and ways to deal with them. If you experience any of these, talk to those close to you and to your health care team. If needed, ask for a referral to a licensed social worker or counselor to help you deal with your emotions. You don’t have to go through this alone.

  • Feelings of worry and anxiety. Fear of recurrence is common. Schedule regular follow-up health care and screenings. You may have concerns about how cancer could affect your future.
  • Concerns about physical appearance. Physical changes during treatment may bring concerns about the way you look or what others might think. There can be a change in how you see yourself.
  • Sadness. This is very common. This is often the time when cancer survivors have time to think about the changes that have happened and are sad as they adjust. Sadness should not last for an extended period of time.
  • Depression. Sadness can go on for too long and depression is a serious condition. People who are depressed may need medical attention to obtain medication and counseling.
  • Grief. Grief is a natural response to loss that can last for quite some time. Full acceptance may not come for awhile. May cancer survivors find comfort in talking with someone they trust such as a loved one, friend or faith based counselor. Support groups can also be a good place to share feelings and to heal.

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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 mariancancercare@dignityhealth.org.

Jenni Davis is an oncology counselor and patient advocate at Mission Hope Cancer Center.

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