Life after cancer treatment

Get advice on adjusting to life after cancer, including how to cope with fatigue, changes to your body and difficult emotions.

People feel all sorts of different emotions when their cancer treatment ends.

Some feel able to get on with life easily when their treatment finishes, and put the experience behind them.

Others find the physical and emotional impact of their cancer hits home when it's all over, and experience difficult feelings like anxiety, anger or depression.

Your emotions after cancer

You may feel:

  • frightened, vulnerable or sad because of what's happened to you
  • lost now that your treatment is over and you're no longer getting as much support from your cancer care team
  • lonely because it's hard for friends and family to understand what you have been through
  • scared to be happy in case your cancer comes back
  • confused about how to fit back into your old life

You may feel guilty about having difficult feelings because your family and doctors have worked so hard to get you to this point.

You may feel you have to put on a positive front to protect friends and family.

These emotions should ease over time, but you may need help coping with them in the meantime.

You may also be dealing with some physical changes, such as hair loss or the loss of a breast (mastectomy), after cancer and cancer treatment.

This can be hard to come to terms with and your self-esteem may have taken a knock.

You may still be coping with short- or long-term effects of cancer treatment, such as appetite loss, fatigue, changes to your sex life, or the side effects of ongoing medication.

Where to get support

Some people are most comfortable talking about their cancer experience with their partner or a close family member.

Or you may prefer to talk to a healthcare professional or people who have been through cancer treatment themselves.

You can discuss your feelings and get advice and support from:

  • your cancer care team – when you finish your treatment, they can give you advice on where to go for further support; they may be able to refer you to a psychologist who specialises in cancer care
  • support groups – post-cancer support groups provide a place for people to chat, swap experiences and offer advice and support to each other: find a group near you
  • cancer support centres – organisations like Maggie's Centres provide relaxed and informal environments to meet other people who have or have had cancer; you can also blog about your experiences and chat to people online via Maggie's online centre
  • charity helplines – call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 0000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) to speak to a nurse specialist; Macmillan also has an online community

Self-help tips on coping after cancer

You may also find the following advice helpful for coping with the physical and emotional after-effects of cancer:

  • Be kind to yourself – recognise what you have been through and how well you have done.
  • Give yourself permission to grieve for what you have lost – if it feels right for you, find someone you feel you can talk to about it.
  • Be honest with family and friends – tell them how you're feeling. Coping doesn't mean being positive all the time.
  • Give yourself goals – if you find the idea of going out difficult, for example, go out with a friend or your partner to a local café for 10 minutes, then increase how long and how often you go out for.
  • Rebuild your self-esteem – focus on your achievements and take time to look at all the good things you have done and still have to offer.  
  • Learn to trust your body again – in time, you'll start to have confidence in yourself as a "healthy person" like you did before the cancer.
  • Get help for depression or anxiety – if you're struggling or worried, talk to your GP or cancer care team. They can discuss treatment options with you, such as talking therapies or medication.

Tiredness and fatigue after cancer

Cancer and cancer treatments can leave you feeling fatigued (overwhelmingly tired). Listen to your body and give yourself time to adjust.

You may find it helpful to keep a daily fatigue, or energy, diary.

Record how you feel after doing daily activities and see if there are times when you have more energy.

Try the "4 Ps" as a way of coping until the fatigue starts to lift:

  • Planning – make a timetable to help you plan tasks for the day or week ahead. 
  • Prioritising – decide the most important things you'd like to achieve and those tasks that can be left for another time.
  • Pacing – break up activities into smaller steps and take regular breaks.
  • Positioning – change the way you do chores (for example, sit down to prepare a meal) and try to maintain a good posture.

Read more self-help tips on fighting fatigue.

Being physically active can help to reduce your fatigue if you go about it in the right way.

Start with a small amount of physical activity and gradually increase it over time. Don't do more than you feel able to. The type of exercise you choose can also be important.

See Macmillan's advice about exercise after cancer treatment.

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