Your feelings after cancer treatment

When cancer treatment ends, many people feel relieved. But many people also feel sad, angry, lonely or uncertain. This might be because the cancer or its treatment has caused side effects or physical changes. Or it might be because your relationship with family, friends or colleagues has changed. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Many people also worry about the cancer coming back. This is normal. Over time you should think about the cancer less often.

People often find their own way of coping and feelings may become easier over time. Let your family and friends know how you feel so they can support you. If you are struggling with your emotions, there is support available. You may find it helpful to talk to a counsellor or to join a support group. Samaritans has a 24-hour confidential helpline on 116 123. They can support anyone in an emotional crisis.

After treatment

When cancer treatment ends, it can be difficult to know how you will feel. Some people are relieved that treatment is over. Other people are surprised to find that their feelings are more complicated than they expected.

There might be many reasons why you have a mixture of different emotions. For example:

  • you have side effects or physical changes caused by the cancer or the treatment
  • your role with your family, friends or at work has changed.

Rather than feeling just relieved, you may also feel sad, angry or uncertain.

People often find their own ways of coping with their feelings after treatment. For many people, feelings may become easier to manage with time. But some people struggle with their feelings for a longer time after treatment has ended. You may be shocked or confused by the emotions you are feeling. If you had low moods or depression before, these problems are sometimes worse after treatment.

It takes a while to live properly again and put it all behind you.

Ian


Relief and hope

Once the main part of your treatment is over, you may feel relieved. You do not have to visit the hospital as much and you can start to recover from the side effects of treatment. You may start to think about having a holiday, going back to work, or doing some of the things you used to do.

Some people find their view on life has changed after treatment. You may have had time to think and reflect on your illness and what you have been through. Often people find this is a positive step and helpful as they move on with life. Perhaps your priorities have changed and different things are important to you now. You may want to make changes at work or at home, try new things or set new goals.

I see life very differently now. Things that used to be important are not so important anymore.

Sandra


Uncertainty

We all like to know what is going to happen to us. It helps us feel secure about the future. After treatment you may feel that this has been taken away from you. Your future may feel uncertain, and this can be frightening.

You may find yourself asking some of these questions:

  • What happens now?
  • Will I ever get back to how I was before?
  • Will I be able to go back to work?
  • Will I be able to have children?
  • Will the cancer come back and, if so, when?

Uncertainty can be stressful. You may feel annoyed, angry and frightened. It is difficult to make plans when you cannot be sure about the future.

Coping with uncertainty

If you are finding uncertainty hard to live with, try taking control of the things you can do something about. Getting back into a routine will help. As you get your strength back, you will be able to do more of your usual activities.

You might decide to make changes to your diet or to your work-life balance. You may want to try complementary therapies to help you relax and cope with stress.

You may find it helpful to know that other people have the same kinds of feelings as you. We have a video of Darren talking about how he coped with uncertainty.

It is how you deal with the uncertainty that helps you move forward. Some people have counselling, others may join local groups or become volunteers.

Richard

Testicular cancer and the emotional effects

Darren describes his experience of being diagnosed with and treated for testicular cancer.

About our cancer information videos

Testicular cancer and the emotional effects

Darren describes his experience of being diagnosed with and treated for testicular cancer.

About our cancer information videos


Fear of cancer coming back

For many people, the biggest fear after treatment is whether the cancer will come back. During treatment you know you are having something that will stop or slow the cancer. But when treatment ends, you may worry that there is nothing to stop the cancer coming back. Any aches or pains may also make you fear that the cancer has returned.

For some people, there is only a small risk that the cancer will come back in the future. Others are told that the cancer is likely to return, but no one can say when this will happen. Your doctors may not give you a clear answer about the future, as they do not always know. Whatever your situation, it is normal to have worries about the cancer coming back.

These worries may come and go or you may have them all the time. Sometimes feelings of fear can be strong and difficult to cope with. You may find that you:

  • cannot concentrate
  • do not sleep well
  • become irritable.

These feelings usually get easier as time goes by and you may think about the cancer less often. But there may be times when these feelings get worse again, such as before a follow-up visit or if you have symptoms you cannot explain.

Coping with fear and anxiety

If you find feelings of fear and anxiety difficult to cope with, you might want to get more support. This could be from your GP, your nurse specialist, a counsellor or a psychologist.

If you are worried about any unexplained symptoms, particularly any that last more than a week, talk to your GP or practice nurse. It may not be anything to do with the cancer, but it is best to get it checked out.


Feeling alone

People with cancer sometimes feel lonely and isolated. It is natural to feel like this at different times during your diagnosis and treatment. Sometimes this feeling stays after treatment ends.

There can be many reasons why you might feel alone. You may miss the routine of treatment, or the relationships you had with hospital staff. Or you may be coping with changes to your appearance, such as weight loss or losing your hair. This can make you feel like you are different or stand out. These changes can be difficult to cope with, even if the changes are not obvious to everyone.

Some people feel lonely even when surrounded by family or friends. It may seem like no one understands what you went through. Many people feel they have to be brave. This might be because they may not want to upset their family and friends by talking about their feelings.

Side effects such as fatigue may mean you spend more time on your own now. Your family and friends might not realise you feel lonely. Or they may think you want time to yourself.

If you are back at work, you may feel isolated because you or your colleagues feel uncomfortable talking about cancer. You may find it helpful to read our section about work and cancer. It has more information about returning to work after treatment and talking to colleagues. 

Loneliness can be worse if you find it difficult to talk about yourself and your feelings. Sometimes it is easier to tell people you are okay when you are not. You may find yourself giving people other reasons for not being yourself, such as ‘I’m just feeling tired’.

Coping with loneliness

Talking about your feelings can help you feel less alone. Try talking to family and friends. Their responses might surprise and reassure you.

You might find it more useful to talk to someone in a similar situation to you. Our online community is a place where you can chat to other people affected by cancer. You can share your own thoughts and feelings, and get support too. 

You may find joining a support group gives you a place to talk. 

You can also call our support line free on 0808 808 00 00 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm). Our specialists can answer your questions about cancer and your feelings, or just be there to listen if you feel alone and want to talk to someone.

Other people think you should be happy when treatment ends, in reality you’re exhausted and you suddenly feel like you’re being left on your own.

Judith


Loss of confidence

Having cancer can make you feel vulnerable and affect your confidence. You may feel you lost some of your independence during your treatment. Your role in your family or at work may have changed. These roles may be important to how you think about yourself. Social life often changes during and after treatment too. You may not be in contact with your friends as much as you were before treatment.

Physical changes caused by treatment can also affect your confidence. If you are learning to cope with a change to your body, our section about body image and cancer may be helpful.

You may worry about what you are able to do and cope with. Or you may feel less comfortable with tasks or situations that were easy before.

Coping with loss of confidence

Building your confidence takes time. You may find things improve as your body recovers from treatment. You may learn new ways of doing things for yourself again.

It is best to set yourself manageable goals that you know you can meet. Work towards larger goals by breaking them into smaller steps.

Perhaps your goal is to be able to enjoy a holiday, but even the thought of one night away from home makes you feel anxious. Start with a day trip. Go somewhere that you know well and can travel to easily. You may decide only to stay for an hour or so. The important thing to remember is that this is a step in the right direction.

As you achieve each goal, your confidence will start to grow. Remember to notice every success, no matter how small. You might want to celebrate or reward yourself somehow. This could be a trip to the cinema or something else you enjoyed doing before you had cancer.

You feel different even though nobody can see it, which of course has its own problems. You know you look fine, but may not feel that way inside.

Aisha


Sadness and depression

People often feel a sense of grief or loss after treatment. You may feel sad about how things have changed or about things you may not be able to do anymore. You may also feel low at times because you are still physically tired.

Perhaps people told you to ‘think positively’ during your treatment. This might be something you hear even more after your treatment is over. Being positive does not mean you have to feel happy all the time. It is a positive thing to accept and talk about your feelings.

As you begin to recover and move on with your life, feelings of sadness and grief often improve. But for some people, the low mood continues or gets worse, and may become depression.

Sometimes it is difficult to know if you are depressed or not. We list some of the symptoms of depression on the next page. Remember, it is normal to have these kinds of feelings sometimes, but if they go on for more than a couple of weeks, you may want to get more support.

Symptoms of depression

Symptoms of depression can include:

  • low moods most of the time
  • not feeling like your usual self
  • not being able to enjoy things like eating, socialising, hobbies or even your own company
  • losing interest in things you used to enjoy
  • problems sleeping
  • problems concentrating or being forgetful
  • feeling helpless or hopeless
  • feeling vulnerable or oversensitive
  • problems starting or finishing tasks
  • thinking about suicide
  • self-harm.

Some people also have physical symptoms of depression, such as a dry mouth or a racing heart (palpitations).

Coping with depression

It is important to remember that depression is common and that there are lots of things that can help. It is fine to still need help, even though your treatment is over. There are many ways to cope and there are different types of support. What works for one person, may not work for another.

For some, just talking about their feelings can help. Let your family and friends know how you feel so they can support you. You can also try talking to someone who has had similar feelings to you. This might be through a cancer support group or an online social networking site, such as our online community.

We have more information about things you can do to help yourself.

If you think you may need more support, you can always talk to your GP, specialist doctor, nurse or other healthcare professionals at the hospital. They can listen and refer you for professional support from a counsellor or psychologist. They may talk to you about taking prescribed drugs to help treat depression.

We have more information about the types of professional help available.

Sometimes people feel very low and need to talk to someone when they cannot contact their doctor, nurse or counsellor. Samaritans has a 24-hour confidential helpline on 116 123 that provides support to anyone in emotional crisis.

We have more information about depression, including a video of Alfie talking about how he has learnt to cope.

People kept telling me how strong I was, probably because of my positive attitude and me putting on a “brave face”. But there were times when I felt anything but strong.

Catherine

I bottled up my emotions. My doctor asked me if I had talked to anyone. I admitted I hadn’t because I was ashamed of my depression.

Julie


Anger

It is natural to feel angry when you have had cancer. You may feel angry about going through treatment and having to cope with the side effects. You may be angry about the impact the cancer has had on your life. It may have affected your ability to work, or your relationships and family life. Anger can also hide other feelings, such as fear or sadness.

We all express our anger in different ways. Some people might be impatient or raise their voice. Others get upset and tearful. You may find you direct your anger at the people closest to you without meaning to.

Coping with anger

It is important to be able to express anger rather than trying to ignore it. If people around you are upset by this, let them know that you are angry about your situation, and not at them.

Try not to feel guilty about your angry thoughts or irritable moods. Anger can be a very powerful emotion, and you may find you can use it in a more positive way. It may give you the determination to start something new like a hobby or signing up to a sports challenge. These feelings may also help you understand what is important in your life.

If you find feelings of anger are starting to affect your life in a negative way, you may find it helpful to talk to a counsellor or psychologist.


Moving forward

It is important not to ignore your feelings after cancer treatment. They are a natural response to what has happened. But there are things you can do to look after yourself that may help you cope as you move through your recovery.

Some people want to take time to reflect on their experiences. Others may take a shorter time to look back on the past and find it more helpful to think about the future. There is no right way or time for dealing with what has happened to you.

We have more information about ways you can help yourself and the different support available from your healthcare team.


Support available

Courses for people affected by cancer

Some cancer centres and organisations run short courses for people living with or after cancer. Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse may be able to give you information about courses in your area.

Help to Overcome Problems Effectively (HOPE) is a course developed by Coventry University and Macmillan Cancer Support to help people after cancer treatment. This course is run in small groups that meet once a week for six weeks. It is free and takes place at various locations across the UK.

Back to Dealing with your emotions

Cancer and your feelings

There is no right way to feel after a cancer diagnosis. You are likely to feel many different emotions.

What you can do

Take each day at a time. There are many different ways to manage your feelings.

Coping with depression

Depression can be difficult to recognise, so try not to ignore your feelings. Help is always available.