Harvard Women's Health Watch

Adapting to life after cancer

Once you've completed treatment, adjusting to a "new normal" can be challenging.

adapting to life after cancer
Image: RuslaGuzov/ Thinkstock

Completing cancer therapy can feel like a graduation. You've done some hard work, it's paid off, and you may be ready to celebrate. But saying goodbye to treatment can arouse many of the emotions and uncertainties associated with beginning a new chapter in life.

Dr. Larissa Nekhlyudov is a general internist who works with cancer survivors at two Harvard affiliates, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She acknowledges that cancer survivors have a lot to deal with. "Once you've had your final chemotherapy infusion or swallowed the last pill, you may find yourself facing a new set of challenges—monitoring yourself for signs of recurrence, getting recommended follow-up care, adjusting to the long-term effects of treatment, psychologically adapting to normal life, and working to stay in good health," Dr. Nekhlyudov says.

Dealing with the specter of recurrence

When treatment ends, you may be hit with the thought that you're no longer actively working against the cancer. You'll still have exams and tests to monitor for recurrence, and each of these visits can be anxiety-provoking. The good news is that for most survivors, the fears dissipate with every recurrence-free year. In the meantime, the following strategies may help:

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »