The 'New Normal'

The end of treatment is a time to be celebrated. However, many people say while they felt they had lots of information and support during their illness, once treatment stopped, they entered a whole new world— one filled with new questions. 

These questions bring a new set of challenges, from processing the trauma to what shall I do now. During cancer diagnosis and treatment, all of the energy and focus is spent on getting through the treatment. Once it’s over, the focus switches to establishing “the new normal”—a life that is often much different than it was before cancer. 

During treatment most people quit doing almost everything. Creating the challenge of getting back into a new routine. All of these can have an impact on you mentally from anxiety to fear. 

Below are some tips that can help reduce stress & anxiety:

Find ways to help yourself relax This can include breathing techniques, Meditation, yoga or just simply reading a book. 
Speak to others 

Sharing your feelings with friends and family may help you feel better. 

Joining support groups on social media can help you answer any questions you may have or just seeing someone else's story can make you feel less alone. 

Exercise

Improves your mood and boosts your self-esteem. 

Write your feelings down
It may help you to express your feelings by writing in a journal. Many people find that getting their thoughts on paper helps them to let go of worries and fears.
Charity work  Volunteering or donating gives you a sense of meaning and gives you something to focus on. 

 

When treatment ends, you may expect life to return to the way it was before you were diagnosed with cancer, although the recovery process can take a while. It can take two months of recovery for every one month of treatment before energy levels return to a baseline. 

From fatigue, to permanent scars it is important to give yourself time to adjust. You may not have built up the confidence in the way you look or feel, or you may not be able to move around as easily or even find it hard to communicate with others. Taking things at your own pace will help you mentally in the long run. Remember that everyone is different and that nobody can predict exactly how long it will take to recover.

How to get back into a normal routine: 

 Remaining in the present
Don’t get stuck in the past or obsess about the future. Focus on what you have to do right now.
Find your priorities

Write a list and determine what is most important to you and revisit your goals. 

Schedule your habits into your life

Start simple, by creating the same routine every morning. For example, waking up, eating breakfast followed by getting dressed. 

To get back into art or writing, try blocking out an hour every two days. 

Take a reset day 

Before returning to work, use a day which is dedicated to getting your life in order. This can be doing all the chores or preparing yourself mentally. 

Remember it takes time

You may find it hard at the beginning but over time it will become easier. 

Bedtime and waking up

Going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday is simple way to help you slowly progress into a daily routine. 

Exercise 

Going for a jog or a walk can help boost your energy, helping you feel ready for new activities. 


What are the chances that the cancer returns?

It’s common to be concerned about whether the cancer will come back, as it's hard to know exactly what will happen. The likelihood of recurrence depends on a number of factors including the type of cancer, the stage the cancer was caught and the individual person’s body.

The chances of recurrence are highest the first few years after the treatment is finished, but the good news is that the chance of recurrence decreases over time and continues to decrease as time passes. 

Managing the fear of recurrence

  • Focus on what you can control. For example, being actively involved in your follow-up appointments.
  • Learn more about your type of cancer and talk to your specialist about your risk of recurrence.
  • Not all symptoms are a sign of cancer, it can help to learn the symptoms of cancer to help put your mind at rest.
  • Speak to your doctor about how to distinguish normal aches, pain or sickness from cancer symptoms.
  • Speak with a counselor or psychologist if the fear of recurrence is overwhelming. They may be able to teach you some strategies to help you manage your fears.
  • Joining a support group can help.
  • Consider getting involved in a creative activity. Some people find this helpful in working through their emotions and anxieties.
  • See your GP if you notice any new symptoms or symptoms that have returned. Don't wait for your next check-up.

Even though you can’t control whether or not your cancer recurs, there are steps you can take to help cope with your fears. Check out my top tips:

  • Let your health care team know your concerns. Be honest about the fears of your cancer coming back so they can address your worries. Your health care team can give you the facts about your type of cancer and the chances of recurrence. 
  • Know that it’s common for you to have fears about every ache and pain. Talk to your health care team if you’re having a symptom that worries you. Just having a conversation with them about your symptoms may help calm your fears. And, over time, you may start to recognise certain feelings in your body as normal.
  • Keep notes about any symptoms you have. Write down questions for your health care team before follow-up visits so you can be prepared to tell them what you’ve been going through since your last check-up.
  • Talk to a therapist. If you find that your fears are more than you can handle, ask for a referral for someone to talk to. If thoughts about cancer recurrence interfere with your daily life, a professional may help you.
  • Follow-up care plan. Having a plan may give you a sense of control and a way to feel proactive with your health after treatment. 

How I deal with the 'new normal'

After hearing I was in complete remission, I felt relieved but at the same time thinking what other health problems could go wrong? Going through cancer has made me realise the worst possible things can happen. But taking control of my health in other ways gave me the confidence to carry on.

Weighing myself, checking my body and knowing the symptoms of cancer really helps. This also helped me start a daily routine. During treatment I was too ill to do anything. I spent 6 months basically in bed and finishing treatment felt so daunting.

Not knowing where to start, I thought I would start each day with weighing myself. Slowly from there I would add other activities to my routine, slowly helping me adjust to a normal life.

For more tips on life after cancer read - 'Improve your Physical Health'