Life After Treatment
Completing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You will be relieved to finish treatment, yet it is hard not to worry about cancer coming back. (When cancer returns, it is called recurrence.) This is a very common concern among those who have had cancer.
It may take a while before your confidence in your own recovery begins to feel real and your fears are somewhat relieved. Even with no recurrences, people who have had cancer learn to live with uncertainty.Learn about support and resources
Seeing a New Doctor
At some point after your cancer diagnosis and treatment, you may find yourself in the office of a new doctor. Your original doctor may have moved or retired, or you may have moved or changed doctors for some reason. It is important to give your new doctor the exact details of your diagnosis and treatment. Make sure you have the following information handy:
- A copy of your pathology report from any biopsy or surgery
- If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report
- If you were hospitalized, a copy of the discharge summary that every doctor must prepare when patients are sent home from the hospital
- Finally, since some drugs can have long-term side effects, a list of your drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
Lifestyle Changes to Consider During and After Treatment
Having cancer and dealing with treatment can be time-consuming and emotionally draining, but it can also be a time to look at your life in new ways. Maybe you are thinking about how to improve your health over the long term. Some people even begin this process during cancer treatment.
Diet and Nutrition
Eating right can be a challenge for anyone, but it can get even tougher during and after cancer treatment. For instance, treatment often may change your sense of taste. Nausea can be a problem. You may lose your appetite for a while and lose weight when you don’t want to. On the other hand, some people gain weight even without eating more. This can be frustrating too.
If you are losing weight or have taste problems during treatment, do the best you can with eating and remember that these problems usually improve over time. You may want to ask your cancer team for a referral to a dietician, an expert in nutrition, who can give you ideas on how to deal with some of the side effects of your treatment. You may also find it helps to eat small portions every 2 to 3 hours until you feel better and can go back to a more normal schedule.
One of the best things you can do after treatment is to put healthy eating habits into place. You will be surprised at the long-term benefits of some simple changes, like increasing the variety of healthy foods you eat. And don’t forget to get some type of regular exercise. The combination of a good diet and regular exercise will help you maintain a healthy weight and keep you feeling more energetic.
Rest, Fatigue, Work, and Exercise
Fatigue is a very common symptom in people being treated for cancer. This is often not an ordinary type of tiredness but a “bone-weary” exhaustion that doesn’t get better with rest. For some, this fatigue lasts a long time after treatment and can discourage them from physical activity.
However, exercise can actually help you reduce fatigue. Studies have shown that patients who follow an exercise program tailored to their personal needs feel physically and emotionally improved and can cope better.
If you are ill and need to be on bed rest during treatment, it is normal to expect your fitness, endurance, and muscle strength to decline a bit. Physical therapy can help you maintain strength and range of motion in your muscles, which can help fight fatigue and the sense of depression that sometimes comes with feeling so tired.
Any program of physical activity should fit your own situation. An older person who has never exercised will not be able to take on the same amount of exercise as a 20 year old who plays tennis three times a week. If you haven’t exercised in a few years but can still get around, you may want to think about taking short walks.
Talk with your health care team before starting and get their opinion about your exercise plans. Then, try to get an exercise buddy so that you’re not doing it alone. Having family or friends involved when starting a new exercise program can give you that extra boost of support to keep you going when the push just isn’t there.
If you are very tired, though, you will need to balance activity with rest. It is okay to rest when you need to. It is really hard for some people to allow themselves to do that when they are used to working all day or taking care of a household
Exercise can improve your physical and emotional health:
- It improves your cardiovascular (heart and circulation) fitness.
- It strengthens your muscles.
- It reduces fatigue.
- It lowers anxiety and depression.
- It makes you feel generally happier.
- It helps you feel better about yourself.
Many people that have been through cancer feel that they could benefit from some kind of support. What’s best for you depends on your situation and personality. Some people feel comfortable in peer-support groups or education groups. Others would rather talk in an informal setting, such as church. Others may feel more at ease talking one-on-one with a trusted friend or counselor.
The cancer journey can feel very lonely. If you aren’t sure who can help, contact jean@AIMatMelanoma.org and she will help you find an appropriate group or resource.
You can’t change the fact that you have had cancer. What you can change is how you live the rest of your life – making healthy choices and feeling as well as possible, physically and emotionally.