Many people who have completed active treatment for cancer describe the post-treatment “survivorship” stage as a positive time. But it’s also natural to have concerns and unexpected feelings bubble up. At Memorial Sloan Kettering, we’re dedicated to helping you handle this new phase of life, by offering ways to keep you as active and healthy as possible and developing a plan of care for regular cancer screenings and follow-up visits.
- Many survivors have feelings they didn’t anticipate.
- It’s normal to think about what’s next.
- Ask your doctor and nurse about your follow-up plan of care.
- Strategies exist for handling pre-test anxieties.
- There are no fixed rules about sharing your experience.
The end of active treatment means your doctors aren’t examining you as intensively. You may, for example, experience an unusual pain and wonder what to do about it. You’re relearning what’s normal — just a regular pain or sensation — versus what might be a sign of the cancer coming back.
To many people’s surprise, some survivors also report feeling some sadness once active, intensive treatment ends. This can be confusing; the expectation is that you’d feel happy. Unexpected gloominess, anxiety, and even fear about the future are common — and perfectly normal. We’ve found that learning more or talking about what you’re experiencing can ease some of the intensity of what you may be going through.
This readjustment takes time and ongoing communication with your nurses and doctors. Even though you’re not in daily or weekly contact anymore, you can still let your team know about your concerns. Some people find it helpful to make a list of questions to review with their doctors and nurses at their follow-up visits. Over time, most people begin to feel more comfortable with their bodies again.
Easing Pre-Visit Anxiety
To put yourself at ease before a follow-up scan or appointment, experiment with these strategies, which have worked for others:
- Write down any questions you have about long-standing symptoms or confusing or difficult emotions.
- Ask a friend or family member to sit with you while you wait for appointments or scans, for example.
- In the days before your appointment, schedule activities that can help distract you from worrying, such as going for a walk, talking with friends and family, or doing yoga.
If your anxiety becomes persistent or overwhelming, or makes it difficult for you to keep your appointments, consider talking to one of our social workers, a Resources for Life After Cancer program specialist, or a mental health professional.Back to top
To Share or Not to Share
When it comes to deciding when to tell others about your cancer, there is no right or wrong approach.
For most people, the answer to the question of when to tell others about your cancer experience — particularly those you might become intimate with — is about timing and trust. Some feel it’s important to let a person get to know you well first before discussing a cancer diagnosis; many people wait until things progress to the point at which keeping a cancer history a secret feels more uncomfortable than talking about it.
Others feel they’re a whole new person because of the diagnosis and want to communicate this part of their personal story right away. There’s no right or wrong approach.Back to top