Unpack this topic
The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
Recovery is a period of transition. You have finished treatment and are entering the recovery phase. It is a time when you can reflect on everything that you’ve gone through, and prepare yourself to move from that stage of your life to the new chapter that is before you. While you were in treatment, you were probably mostly focused on getting yourself through that challenging time; but now you can turn your attention to regaining strength and healing yourself.
When we are in treatment, we just think about surviving. The healing process starts when we finish the treatment.
It is often assumed that after cancer treatment, people return to life the way it was before cancer; however, this is not always the case. The experience of cancer and cancer treatment can affect the mind and body beyond treating the disease. Some people recover quite easily. Others may find it more difficult to return to everyday life, because they don’t feel that they are the same person they were before, emotionally or physically. There are many reasons for all of these feelings, and everyone’s experience is unique; but at the centre of it all is the idea that having had cancer can cause changes in a person that can also affect their life in general. That is why people often refer to life after cancer treatment as the ‘new normal’.
Time is important in the healing process, for the mind and the body. Although it can be difficult to be patient with the process, it is important to understand that the range of emotions recovering cancer patients experience can be all over the place—and it is all normal. Some people feel a rollercoaster of emotions, from relief and excitement for the future, to anxiety and anger that they are in this situation. People also talk about feeling unsettled at first because their lives no longer revolve around medical appointments, treatments and tests. Physical effects from treatment can add another layer of challenges to the recovery phase. As with emotional effects, physical effects can have a broad range, depending on the treatment, and can vary widely from person to person.
I kind of felt lost and like I had been thrown on some deserted island. I felt my whole life was really upside down. It was just like a complete unknown.
It is not unusual to feel that you do not have a clear path, or a plan of where to begin, for your recovery. During your treatment you were probably surrounded by your medical team who advised you every step of the way; but now many of the choices and decisions will be up to you. The goal of the Looking Forward program is to help you prepare a plan—a roadmap—to discover what is important for you in your recovery, and to provide information, tips and strategies on how to handle your needs and concerns. The information presented in Looking Forward was prepared with the advice of people who have gone through cancer treatment and recovery, as well as healthcare professionals who care for people throughout the cancer experience. We hope it will help you and we wish you all the best for your recovery!
This information does not provide an in-depth assessment of any particular type of cancer. You must always seek professional help to guide you in your recovery.
Starting your recovery: Identifying and understanding your needs
When you bring peace to your past, you can move forward to your future.
During your recovery, it can be helpful to take the time to understand where you feel you are now physically, emotionally and socially, what has changed for you, and how to adjust to any changes as part of your current life.
Recovery is a process—it does not happen all at once from one day to the next. Taking the time to reflect on the current state of your health, wellbeing, and personal relationships can be a good place to start in order to move forward. Some people would just like to leave their cancer experience behind them; but this is not an easy thing to do. All of our experiences are continually shaping and reshaping us, as well as our present and future lives. They become part of who we are. By acknowledging the changes that have occurred because of your treatment experience, you can begin to find ways to connect your before and after worlds in the most helpful way for you. It is important not to ignore what has happened regarding your cancer experience when you are planning how you want to live your life going forward.
The changes that you identify may be very small, or they may lead to a major shift in the way you live your life. Understanding where you are now in terms of your experience and its effects, can help you regain a sense of control over your life. This is important because during your recovery it will be mostly your own choices and decisions that will determine what your recovery will look like. Thinking about what you need to do for yourself to recover, and what is possible for you to do, and then taking the steps forward towards these goals can be very empowering. You are the best person to know what you need.
Getting to know your ‘new normal’: The self-assessment
Understanding and awareness are two important tools to keep in mind when you approach self-assessment. How you combine the effects of your treatment experience with your life in recovery, and beyond, will be unique to you. However, there are some basic steps that anyone can use to explore their feelings a bit more deeply.
In this section, you will be introduced to the idea of assessing yourself. This is like taking a survey of what’s going on with your body and your emotions. The assessment is divided into 3 parts: your physical condition, your thoughts and emotions, and your personal and work relationships. In each part, some things or ideas will be proposed for you to think about.
Your physical condition
With time, your body will recover from treatment. It is important to give yourself this time and to be aware of what your body is telling you as you recover. Physical recovery does not only mean that the body heals—it also means accepting any physical changes that you may have, and being able to move forward with your life.
Many people who have experienced cancer feel physically different, whether it is visible to other people (such as the loss of a limb), or not (such as with fatigue or pain). You may feel you have been betrayed by your body. Or perhaps you have feelings of guilt because you don’t think you led a healthy lifestyle before your diagnosis. It is hard to understand the real randomness of cancer—it is more helpful at this stage to think about how your body handled the treatment, and how you can take care of it going forward. Take the time to listen to your body and pay attention to how you have been feeling physically since you began your recovery.
Some things for you to consider are:
- Level of fatigue
- Level of pain
- Mobility issues (ability to move around)
- Level of energy
- Body image concerns
Make some notes to help you focus your thoughts: Since beginning my recovery, physically I feel — .
Your emotional and spiritual wellbeing
After treatment, you may experience a variety of emotions, such as:
- Depressed feelings
- Excitement about the future
Experiencing intense feelings, which sometimes seem to be in competition with each other, is normal during a period of transition such as recovery. You have been through an intense period of your life, and perhaps you kept some of your emotions in the background as you focussed on dealing with your illness. Now that you are in recovery, strong emotions may come to the surface.
All of your emotions are natural and true, and the way you respond to them is unique to you. It is important, however, to acknowledge these feelings to be able to move through them. It can be helpful to take a step back, look at your emotions without judgement, and think about how they are affecting your recovery. Speaking with someone you trust, or with people who have been through the same experience, can also be helpful. As you go through this process, remember to always be kind to yourself.
Another important part of your emotional wellbeing is your belief system. A belief system is a way of looking at life and the world. It may be spiritual or religious, or it may be a set of values or principles that guide how you live your life. Belief systems can help us understand the meaning and purpose of life, give us inner strength and hope, and can help us come to terms with the things that happen in our lives that cannot be easily explained.
When some people experience a serious illness, their beliefs may become stronger. For others, it causes them to question their beliefs, or search for new meanings and deeper connections with people and the world around them. Any and all of this is a normal part of the cancer experience. And like the physical, emotional and social changes you may have gone through, this will take time for you to think about and to explore. Speaking with someone you trust —a friend, family member, spiritual advisor, or professional — may help you through this process.
Make some notes: Since beginning my recovery, emotionally I feel — .
Your relationships, work and social life
Your relationships with your partner, family, friends and work colleagues may have changed since you were diagnosed and in treatment. Relationships with significant others may have been either strengthened or challenged by the experience of diagnosis and treatment.
It is possible that in recovery you will want to spend time reconnecting with your partner, or working through the emotions that both of you may be dealing with at this time. Some people find that they received tremendous support from some of the people in their life, and surprisingly little support from others, which can affect relationships.
The end of treatment can also change some of your social relationships because you as a person may have changed. The role that others expect you to play, or the way they expect you to be, may not be the same as what feels right for you at this time. For example, a supervisor at work may expect you to go back to your job with the same motivation as you had before, but your goals may be different now.
Friends may believe that since you are in recovery there is no need to talk about your cancer experience anymore. Your family members may be looking forward to you getting back to everyday life, or they may be afraid that you are too fragile to return to life the way it was before treatment. It can be helpful to think about how your relationships are affecting your recovery and which ones are important for you to work on.
Make some notes: about my relationships with my partner, family, friends and/or colleagues, I feel —.
Getting started: Identify your needs—self-scan questionnaire
Now that you have taken the time to think about your experience, you may have some ideas about what areas of your life you would like to focus on during your recovery. We invite you to complete the self-scan questionnaire, which highlights common concerns and challenges for cancer patients after treatment. It will help you identify the areas where you may need more information, guidance and/or help, and create your own personalized roadmap to recovery. The areas covered include:
- What to expect after treatment: Managing side effects and their symptoms
- Emotions, fears and relationships: Managing your emotional health
- Regaining function: Promoting and maintaining health
- Back to work: Planning your return
- Family get support: Taking care of the caregiver
- Where to get reliable health information: How to search, how to evaluate