Only those who have been through the ups and downs of having and then recovering from cancer truly understand the fact that completing treatment doesn’t automatically lead to a stress-free life. When cancer treatment ends, so do some causes of stress. However, different causes of stress may take their place as you transition into life as a cancer survivor. Here are some of the most common stressors for cancer survivors, and suggestions for dealing with them.
Common Post-Cancer Stressors
In addition to the regular stresses that many adults experience related to employment, income, managing a household, maintaining a positive relationship with a partner or other family members, and on and on and on, a cancer survivor is also subject to unique stressors. Here are some of the most common sources of stress for cancer survivors.
- Fear of recurrence
- Social and emotional changes resulting from cancer or cancer treatment
- Physical changes resulting from cancer or cancer treatment
- Returning to or looking for work
- Long-term side effects of cancer or cancer treatment
Compass Oncology Social Workers note that it usually takes at least as long as the duration of your cancer treatment until you will feel fully physically and emotionally well. Post-cancer stress is normal. Fortunately, in most cases, it improves significantly over time.
General Tips for Managing Stress After Cancer
Learning how to cope with life’s stressors is one of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself.
Sometimes, cancer survivors are reluctant to seek help. After being a patient for so long, they don’t want to lose any of their newfound independence. It’s always OK to seek help. Compass has Oncology Social Workers that patients have access to throughout treatment and even after treatment is complete.
Focus on the Positive
Some things you worry about, such as fear of recurrence, are beyond your control. There is nothing you can do to guarantee your cancer won’t come back one day. Try to understand that worrying is wasted energy. Practice having a positive attitude (looking on the bright side) so you can enjoy right now. Because right now you don’t have cancer. Focus on the good!
Additionally, focus on the things you do have control over. You can follow your cancer treatment summary and your doctors’ instructions, get all of your follow-up tests. Take care of your body and pursue a healthy lifestyle with physical activity and good eating habits.
Don’t keep your emotions bottled up. Consider joining a survivors’ support group. You’ll find comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. You’ll also find empowerment in helping others. One-on-one or family counseling may also be a helpful tool for releasing emotions and managing them.
Other stress-relieving tools include:
- Expressing your feelings in a journal
- Taking up a new hobby
- Spending time outdoors
- Being careful not to over-schedule yourself
- Exercising regularly
- Making time for things you enjoy
- Socializing with friends and loved ones
- Getting plenty of sleep (7 hours or more per night)
- Practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, or relaxation breathing
5 Signs that You May Benefit from Professional Help
Worry, fear and anxiety are normal emotions that come and go. Sometimes, though, people become “stuck” and can’t seem to get past severe stress and anxiety. If you’ve been a cancer survivor for at least a year and experience any of the following issues, it might be a good idea to talk to a therapist:
- You cry often, lash out in anger, or feel extremely anxious for no obvious reason
- You’re experiencing insomnia
- Your relationships with your spouse, significant other, children, parents, or close friends are strained
- You’re having trouble focusing, finishing tasks, or meeting deadlines and those aren’t things you normally struggle with
- You feel lethargic, indifferent, unmotivated, and/or drained of energy
Oncology social workers are specially trained to help cancer survivors find the resources that they need, including programs to help patients recover from debilitating stress and anxiety caused by cancer. Everyone experiences stress. Realizing that, recognizing when you’re stressed out, and using these tips to redirect your thoughts can help you keep stress from becoming debilitating.