Living with cancer is one of the biggest challenges a person can face.1 When you are confronted with the prospect of cancer treatment, you may feel anxious, afraid, and overwhelmed. You may worry about the impact this treatment could have on the way you look and feel, your ability to perform daily tasks, and your capacity to interact with other people.1
This section will provide you with some general insights to help you understand and prepare for the effects cancer treatment will have on you, physically and emotionally, both during and after treatment.
Diagnosis and treatment
Following diagnosis, you and your doctor should discuss available treatment options and decide which is the best choice for you.2 During this conversation, try to make sure that you receive answers to the following questions:3
- What kind of cancer do I have, and which part of my body is affected?
- What are my treatment options, and where will I receive treatment (e.g. in hospital or at home)?
- Why do you recommend this treatment in my specific case?
- What is the goal of my treatment?
- What side effects can I expect and how can they be managed?
- Do I need to start treatment immediately?
- Will this treatment affect my fertility?
It is a good idea to write down any questions before the consultation so you do not forget anything. Try to note the answers to read again later, as there may be a lot of information to take in at one time. Your doctor may also be able to give you leaflets with more information about your cancer and treatment.
Chemotherapy and side effects
If you need to start chemotherapy treatment it is important that you know about possible side effects and how they can be managed or minimised.2,4 Chemotherapy affects everyone differently, and side effects vary in terms of frequency, severity, and timing.2,3 Find out more about this subject in the What side effects can I expect from chemotherapy? article of this website.
Inform your doctor if you experience any side effects; your doctor or nurse may have suggestions about ways to cope with them.5
After finishing the course of chemotherapy, you will receive follow-up care tailored to the type of cancer you have and to any side effects that may have accompanied treatment.6-9 Your doctor or nurse will want to monitor your recovery and assess your health through a series of regular follow-up visits. These may include medical tests, which will be specific to the type of cancer and the treatment you have received, blood tests, and imaging tests such as a CT scan or an MRI.8,9 The purpose of these continuing visits is to monitor recovery and investigate any new health problems that might develop after you finish treatment.8,9
You should have been given a list of contact details for people you can call or email if you have questions or concerns about your health. This list can include patient support groups and relevant healthcare professionals, such as your general practitioner, surgeon, oncologist, haematologist, or nurse.7
You might find follow-up visits to your doctor or other specialists stressful; they might bring back unpleasant memories, and you may be worried that follow-up tests could reveal a recurrence of cancer.7,8 Talk with your doctor as early as possible if you experience a new health problem. Consider bringing a family member or friend with you to these doctor visits; they are a good source of support and may also have good questions about your care.7,8
Some things to remember as your treatment ends
- At the end of chemotherapy treatment, talk to your doctor or nurse; tell them how you feel now and ask them how you are likely to feel, both physically and emotionally, in the coming months7
- Ask to receive a copy of your end-of-treatment assessment and follow-up care plan
- These documents provide information about your further treatment7
- Find out who should be your primary contact for questions or concerns about your health
- If this person is unable to answer your questions, he or she can direct you to the someone else who can give you an answer7
- Ask about what signs and symptoms to look out for if you are worried about cancer recurrence7
- Keep track of any post-treatment symptoms and consult your doctor or nurse or your main contact7
- Self-monitor your health and attend all scheduled check-ups6,7
- Be aware that some side effects may continue after treatment has finished, while others may emerge long after treatment has finished
- Regular check-ups can help you manage these7
Support and advice
You may feel very lonely during the process from cancer diagnosis to recovery, but there is almost always someone who can help and support you along the way. Help yourself to cope during this difficult time by connecting with people you trust and who care about you: family members, close friends, support groups, and your healthcare providers.1,2,7
Cancer support groups, in particular, are set up specifically to provide cancer patients with an opportunity to share thoughts and feelings with others who are experiencing, or have experienced, the same disease and treatments.10 There is no single, ideal way to cope with cancer, but it can be helpful, inspiring, and interesting to hear the other people’s stories and experiences during cancer and recovery.10
Here are some lifestyle tips to remember as you progress from cancer treatment to recovery:7,8
- Try to find someone to go to with concerns such as money, work, and family matters
- Support could come from a family member, cancer support centre, or the hospital social work department7
- Talk about your feelings; everyone who has gone through cancer diagnosis and treatment has experienced a similar range of emotions to those you are experiencing now7
- Adopt a lifestyle that will help promote well-being and recovery
- Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and limited alcohol intake can speed up the recovery process and improve your emotional well-being7,8
- Try to maintain a normal routine and lifestyle, within the bounds of necessary changes required to help your recovery7
- If you feel able to do so, use your own experiences to help improve treatment, care, and recovery for others
- Sharing your experiences in a patient group or forum, volunteering with a cancer charity, or taking part in research studies can help shape and improve future cancer treatment plans7