Tips on Navigating Life After Cancer

May 31, 2024

Cancer is a disease that has sadly touched everyone to some degree. You may have been recently diagnosed, are in remission, or have been undergoing treatment. A friend or loved one might be in the middle of a cancer journey. Or you may have lost someone close to you from the disease. No matter how cancer has affected you, it’s important that we take a moment to champion those impacted by the disease. 

June 2nd is National Cancer Survivors Day. It’s a worldwide celebration that takes place on the first Sunday of every June. The initiative was started by the National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation to honor those who have survived cancer, bring hope to the recently diagnosed, rally community involvement and support the friends and families of survivors. 

What is a cancer survivor?

The American Cancer Society refers to a cancer survivor as anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer as anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer – whether they’ve completed treatment and are in remission or have been recently diagnosed. Whether you’re just facing a new diagnosis or have come out the other side, cancer leaves you with a lot to process. 

In honor of National Cancer Survivors Day, here are some ways in which you can nurture your mental and physical health, no matter where you are within your cancer journey.

Know that any emotions you are feeling are valid

A cancer diagnosis brings forth a myriad of emotions – everything from fear to sadness to anger. In addition to being physically demanding, undergoing cancer treatment can be mentally challenging. And those in remission may also not be in the head space they thought they’d be in once they finished treatment.

“A lot of people think that they're going to feel excited and happy but that isn’t always the case,” says integrative oncologist Dr. Katie Deming, who delivered a popular Ted Talk on How to Talk to Someone With Cancer. “They see videos of people on Instagram so excited but the truth is that actually a lot of people feel really anxious, depressed, and afraid when they get to this point of finishing treatment, which catches them off guard, because they're thinking, ‘oh, I should be so excited.’” 

This, she says, happens because after a diagnosis, you’re surrounded by medical professionals, and then all of a sudden you’re left by yourself to process the emotions you were too busy to process while actively undergoing treatment. “If you feel down, and you feel anxious, and you're not sure why you're feeling that way, know that it's a normal part of the process,” says Deming. She recommends cancer survivors take a moment to recognize that they’ve just been through something traumatic and lean into the emotions that come along with that.

Recognize fear but try not to let it consume you

Fear is a normal part of any cancer survivor’s journey. In fact, research suggests that 73% of cancer survivors have some degree of fear of cancer returning. It’s common to have your head swirling with thoughts like “Will it come back?” “What are the chances it will come back?” And certain things can trigger these emotions to be even more prominent. You might feel extra anxious surrounding times like your anniversary of receiving a diagnosis, on the day of a follow up exam. You could also feel fearful if you begin to experience new health symptoms you haven’t felt before. 

The American Cancer Society recommends recognizing your fear and practicing letting it go. Imagine holding a balloon that is your fear and unclenching your fist to release it and let it fly away. Additional ways to combat fear are to focus on living in the present moment instead of letting your mind wander to a future full of “what ifs,” engaging in some calming techniques like meditation, and confiding your feelings in others. If your fears become too great to control, seek out the help of a professional therapist who can give you some coping techniques. 

Lean on your loved ones

Identify friends and family who you can turn to if you want to talk, watch a funny movie with as a distraction, or who can provide a shoulder to cry on. And don’t be afraid to tell these people what you need. If someone offers to cook you a meal and you’re not feeling like cooking, take them up on it. If a family member says “text me anytime you are feeling blue,” grab your phone if you feel the tears coming on. You can also ask loved ones to give you some space, if needed, and set that boundary as well. Deming suggests being honest and telling those closest to you exactly what they can do that would support you the most.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to go back to “normal”

Just because you’ve finished treatment doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be ready to dive fully back into your life before cancer. You might not feel ready to be the same social butterfly and host backyard BBQs or monthly game nights for a while. You might find yourself wanting to have some time to yourself and not always be out and about with others. Your role in the family may have changed a bit, as family members may have taken on tasks you weren’t up to doing during treatments and you may be reevaluating what that looks like. You might also have an entirely new outlook on life and decide that you’re unhappy in your career or want to make another big change. That’s all okay. Baby step back into your day to day and see where that takes you. You don’t have to be the exact same person you were before a diagnosis. 

Find a support group

You can talk to your family and friends but there is immense benefit in being able to open up to someone who has gone through what you went through. Ask your oncologist if they can refer you to a survivor’s support group run or see if there is one run by your local hospital. Check out the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Survivors Network, a peer support community for cancer patients and caregivers. Find a social media group of cancer survivors to chat with. Reach out to friends or loved ones who have gone through cancer themselves. For additional support, check out this resource from the National Cancer Institute, Life After Cancer Treatment.

Focus on healthy habits

Keeping on top of your health can help you to get your body back in balance. You may be feeling the effects of chemotherapy, for instance, in the months or year that follow your last treatment. Healthy habits like eating a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and lean proteins, as well as prioritizing regular exercise can help to reduce some of these symptoms. 

Quitting smoking, eliminating your alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy weight and keeping up with regular health screenings can also help to reduce risk of a cancer recurrence. And don’t forget to nurture your mental health as well. “This is where stress-busting activities such as yoga, meditation, or just some simple breathing exercises can be incorporated,” says Niloufar Esmaeilpour, a therapist in Vancouver. “It is even very important to make simple, realistic health goals, celebrate little milestones in between to keep a good attitude, and stay motivated to do more.”

Get a whole-body MRI from Prenuvo

It’s important that all cancer survivors follow their doctor’s advice and keep up with any follow-up tests and regular screening. In addition, Prenuvo’s whole-body MRI scan can also be a useful screening tool that allows you to get the full picture of what is going on inside your body, empowering you to be more proactive with your health. 

Prenuvo offers a whole-body MRI that can detect cancer as early as Stage 1, allowing for more effective and successful treatments. And cancer isn’t all that Prenuvo can detect. A one-hour scan has the ability to test for hundreds of conditions – including everything from the reason behind undetected pain to a tumor a person never knew existed. A Prenuvo scan can provide a baseline for those worrying about genetic predispositions, actionable health data people can use to improve their wellbeing, and peace of mind for those without adverse findings. 

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