Survivorship & Mental Health

Cancer affects patients on more than just a physical level. It can also impact a patient on a mental level, causing emotional distress, anxiety, and depression— both during treatment and after. During treatment, your concerns probably revolved around your treatment plan, the side effects that could come along with it, and of course, how it was impacting the people you care about. But as a cancer survivor, it’s likely those concerns have changed.

Sure, you can breathe easier now that you’ve beaten cancer— but that doesn’t mean you’ll be totally concern-free. In fact, feelings of anxiety and stress can sometimes be worse after treatment ends. With less focus on your physical health, you have more time to focus on your new normal— and oftentimes, this leads to another wave of emotions including worry, sadness, and fear. Is there something you can do to regain a more positive and less anxious mental state?

Common Concerns and Feelings After Cancer Treatment

Struggling with several challenges at once is common for cancer survivors. Challenges such as:

  • Not being as socially active as you once were. Gathering in groups of people can sometimes leave you vulnerable to conversations about your health that you aren’t quite ready to have. 
  • Post-cancer body image. Surgery, weight gain, and weight loss could leave your body looking different than it was before cancer. 
  • The inability to remember things. This lingering side effect, called “chemobrain,” can be frightening to those who experience it. 
  • Worrying that the cancer will come back, and if it does, where might it reappear?
  • Being worried about your financial situation, whether it’s related to medical bills or going back to work.  
  • Feeling alone after treatment. During your cancer treatment, you may have been surrounded by helpers— doctors, nurses, friends, and family who drove you places, ran errands for you, cooked for you, and helped you maintain your home. Doing things on your own again can leave you feeling overwhelmed and even depressed that the support system you had during treatment isn’t there for you as frequently as before.

Surviving cancer is certainly a relief. But feeling truly happy again can take some time— and that’s OK. These negative feelings and emotions you may be feeling after cancer are common and completely normal. 

Tips for Improving Your Mental Health After Cancer Treatment 

It might seem challenging at first, but your mental health can be improved once cancer treatment is over. Here are some tips to get you started: 

  1. Accept that your feelings are normal and that it’s OK to have them. 
  2. Reach out to your closest family members and/or friends telling them about your feelings and concerns. There’s no reason you should move forward on your own and the people closest to you can often help you feel better.
  3. Talk with your general practitioner or cancer care team at your next appointment, letting them know how you’ve been feeling. If they think medicine might help, they can write a prescription. 
  4. Choose 1 or 2 things at a time that you can start to work on to relieve some of the stress. These should be issues you have control over such as your work situation, or getting back to a healthy weight.
  5. Consider talking to other survivors. Support groups are available as well as other support services for patients and survivors including medication or yoga classes, art therapy, journaling, and more. 

Visit Minnesota Oncology’s Patient Resources and Education page to find a support program.