You have finally completed cancer treatment and now join 16.9 million other Americans who are also posttreatment cancer survivors, but you wonder: What is next? Will my life finally go back to normal? It is true — cancer survival changes your life. And in time, you will create a new normal. There are important steps to go from surviving to thriving.
“Completing cancer treatment is a momentous achievement,” said Dr. Lauren Bigham, Director of the Georgia Cancer Center’s Psycho-Social Oncology program. “Although life as they once knew it will likely change, how an individual chooses to move forward in creating their new normal can be incredibly meaningful and rewarding.”
First and foremost, Dr. Bigham recommends talking with your treatment team to obtain the specifics surrounding the completed cancer treatment and the care plan moving forward. It will be important to share with your different doctors moving forward the cancer treatment you received. And your care plan will outline what kind of follow-up is necessary – to include when and with whom. It outlines when different screening procedures should be completed to monitor for recurrence and late-term effects of cancer treatment. It is also important to talk with your oncologist and primary care provider to know the warning signs of cancer’s return. Report any suspicious symptoms to your doctor at once.
In addition to following the recommended care plan, creation of a new normal requires taking care of oneself or engaging in self-care. From eating a balanced diet with 5 servings per day of fruits and vegetables, drinking adequate water, and obtaining 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, the research suggests that engagement in these types of healthy behaviors not only support one’s optimal engagement in daily life but can also limit risk of other cancer treatment side-effects down the line. Of note, guidelines by the American College of Sports Medicine suggest persons with cancer benefit from 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity three times per week when combined with twice weekly resistance exercise.
Being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment often affects an individual’s sense of finiteness, purpose, and meaning. And for some, this can be incredibly distressing and isolating, especially following the conclusion of active treatment. Posttreatment survivorship can also include preoccupation with and worry about cancer recurrence, which is often not discussed but commonly occurs.
Creating a new normal with meaning and purpose takes courage and commitment in seeking out the necessary social and emotional support. This may include talking with trusted friends, family, fellow survivors, and/or members of your oncology treatment team. Some posttreatment cancer survivors also find benefit from support groups and counseling. “It is important for cancer survivors to get the emotional support they need,” Bigham said. “Discovering the ‘new normal’ is daunting, but patients don’t have to go through that alone.”