Adjusting to life off cancer treatment

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Finishing cancer treatment is a major milestone, but for some teens it may take time to readjust to "normal" life. Read about adjusting to life off treatment.

Key points

  • For most teens, it can take time to adjust to being off treatment and to cope with the difficult feelings that come with cancer and treatment and can last beyond the end of treatment.
  • Adjusting to life after cancer is difficult for almost all teens, their family and friend; talk to your health-care team if you feel like you are having trouble coping.
  • Some people may pressure you to "move on" but it is important to remember that they probably don't understand what you have been through; try to explain how you are feeling and the impact cancer and treatment has had on your emotions.

I'm off treatment!

Congratulations! You are finished treatment. For many people, finishing treatment is something to celebrate, although it is normal to be a bit nervous or scared about completing therapy. You, your family and your friends have probably been looking forward to this day for a long time, so give yourself some credit for the strength it took to get to this moment. Reflect on the skills you have gained along the way.

Finding a balance

Your outlook as a cancer survivor is about finding a balance between looking towards your future and thinking back to what happened along your treatment journey. On the one hand, you want to focus on moving forward and living your life. On the other hand, cancer and its effects may still be impacting your life. You may also still have clinic and follow-up appointments to attend.

After treatment, a few teens are able to jump right back into their normal life like they never missed a beat. If this is you, that’s great!

But for most teens, it can take some time to adjust to being off treatment. This may be hard, but it is normal. You and your loved ones have been so focused on treatment and surviving cancer that, when it’s over, it’s common to ask, "Now what?"

The difficult feelings—confusion, fear, stress, anxiety—that can come with cancer and treatment may last longer than the cancer and treatment themselves. This can be especially true if you have experienced permanent physical or mental changes due to cancer. It’s common to wonder, "What exactly is this ‘normal’ life I am supposed to be returning to?"

Redefining "normal"

With all the changes that can come with finishing treatment, it can be more realistic to think of life off treatment as a new beginning rather than a return to ‘normal.’ Some describe it as a 'new normal'.

How do you make this switch?

  • Try to focus on right now and looking toward the future rather than focusing on the past.
  • Try experimenting with different routines and activities. Try new things until you find something that works for you.
  • Take opportunities to celebrate life! Make an effort to celebrate important milestones such as birthdays or anniversaries of important dates. Don’t forget the little things such as your first haircut after chemotherapy.
  • Acknowledge the changes and loss you experienced because of cancer. It can be painful, but this is a necessary part of healthy recovery.
  • Acknowledge the strength it took to get through cancer, and recognize any positive changes that came from it.
  • Keep talking. Communicating your feelings to someone you trust can help you make sense of your emotions and adjust to life off treatment.
  • Continue to practice the techniques for managing stress and emotions, relaxation and distraction.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people.
  • Focus on making healthy lifestyle choices.

Remember that adjusting to life after cancer is challenging for almost all teens, as well as their friends and family. It is a process, and it takes time. If you feel like you are having real difficulty coping, talk to someone on your health-care team. They can connect you with support and people who understand.

Pressure to "move on"

You may find that other people are frustrated or pressuring you to "get over it" and "move on." For many teens, this can be frustrating or hurtful and may leave you feeling misunderstood. Try to remember that they probably don’t understand what it’s like to be a teenaged cancer survivor, just as you didn’t understand what it was like before you experienced it.

You can try explaining to them that cancer is more than just a disease of the body. It is a life-changing experience that can affect your thoughts, emotions, and view of your place in the world. It is normal to take time to adjust. You can explain that surviving cancer is still something you are dealing with and that you need time to adjust in your own way.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019