Life After Chemotherapy

By Francesca Di Meglio
Reviewed by Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS

You’ve been dreaming of completing chemotherapy and returning to your former life that was busy, active and vibrant. Yet, now that your treatment is over, you’re confused because cancer has forever changed you, and there’s no going back. That’s all right—you can jump-start your new life with some TLC and forethought. Here are some tips for moving forward after chemotherapy:

  1. Be good to yourself. Don’t feel obligated to do anything you don’t want to do. Now is the time to be selfish, so pencil in some “me time.” Pamper yourself, guilt-free. Soak in a hot tub, even if there’s a pile of laundry. Shut off your phone and watch the big game uninterrupted. With your new zest for life, you’ll find yourself wanting to smell the roses more—and you should.
  2. Surround yourself with love. Cancer has a way of showing you who can be counted on. Those who held your hand, asked how you were doing and helped take the focus off the cancer are allies. And your girlfriend who calls you to talk about your favorite TV show can go a long way toward helping you feel like your old self again.” According to Lynette Bisconti, a cancer survivor and president of the Gateway for Cancer Research, which helps support patient-centered cancer research, if your friends and family are treating you differently, tell them, “I’m the person who you love, so just treat me like you always have. I want to participate in life, so don’t erase me from it.”
  3. Know your limits. You might not be ready to run a marathon—and that’s fine. Be selective: Don’t feel bad if you can’t get right back to all the activities you did before chemotherapy. Many people feel fatigued after chemotherapy, and it can take months to regain energy, says Kevin Stein, managing director of the Behavioral Research Center for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. “Start slowly, and don’t jump into anything head first,” he adds.
  4. You’ll still have side effects. “Chemo brain,” the term used to describe the memory and thinking lapses some experience after treatment, can make it difficult to do things such as keep track of names or multitask. Writing things down and allowing yourself the time to accomplish chores are among the ways to cope. Realize your body has changed; work with it, rather than against it. (Fatigue can linger, too.)
  5. Assess your health. Staying healthy is required to enjoy life’s pleasures. And by adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors, you’re reducing your risk of this cancer returning. With your doctor and loved ones, discuss the types of activities you would like to take on, determining which are most appropriate, based on your health and schedule, and create a timetable for returning to all of the things you love. Consider jotting it down, too. “Some of the concern and anxiety you have during this transitional period can be alleviated by putting this information in writing,” says Stein.
  6. Face your fears. It’s normal to worry about your cancer returning as nearly all cancer survivors do. If you fret about it too much, though, the cancer is still holding you captive, preventing you from enjoying your life that was saved. Talk with your oncologist about your fears.
  7. Prepare to return to your primary care healthcare provider. Depending on your risk of recurrence, you likely don’t need to see your oncologist as routinely as when you were first diagnosed. Get a summary of your treatment sent to your primary care healthcare provider and a survivorship plan of what do, when and why.
Published March 2014

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