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Cancer Survivorship: What is Life Like After Cancer?

a cancer survivor with no hair wearing a hat and smiling
Anticipating life changes after a cancer diagnosis may make it easier to deal with them.

After cancer treatment, you may be surprised to discover that your life isn’t quite the same as before. In fact, pain, fatigue, brain fog, depression and other symptoms may continue for months or years. Anticipating these changes can help you improve your ability to cope and thrive despite the obstacles.

The Challenges of Cancer Survivorship

These are some issues you may experience after cancer treatment ends.

New Worries and Fears

After surviving a bout of cancer, it’s only natural to worry that you’ll suffer a relapse one day. Concerns about bills, family dynamics and the way people treat you as a cancer survivor may consume your thoughts.

Mental Health Effects

While everyone else is celebrating your recovery, you may be feeling a little sad or depressed. These feelings are common and normal, particularly if you didn’t take the time to grieve while you were undergoing treatment.

Physical Ailments

Chemotherapy, radiation treatment and medications can come with lingering side effects. Those include:

  • Pain
  • Weight gain
  • Nerve damage
  • Cataracts
  • Tooth decay
  • Bladder control issues
  • Osteoporosis
  • Hearing loss
  • Heart and lung damage


Fatigue is common after cancer treatment and affects between 80% – 100% of cancer patients, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). The ACS notes that fatigue may be caused by toxic substances that affect the way the body’s cells work, a build-up of cell waste materials or hormone and protein level changes.

Chemo Brain

Chemotherapy may cause problems with memory, organization, concentration and the ability to master new skills. The ACS reports that chemo brain is usually a short-term problem and more likely to affect people who received high doses of chemotherapy or radiation to the brain.

Dealing with Post-Cancer Changes

Finding your new normal takes some time, no matter what type of cancer or treatment you had. Fortunately, you can live a full life despite the challenges. Your provider can offer treatments or strategies that reduce or relieve pain and minimize your symptoms. These other tips may also help.

Physical and Mental Health

To improve your physical and mental health, try:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Regaining lost strength with physical therapy
  • Participating in activities you enjoy

Get Survivorship Support

We offer help and support for cancer survivors. Get more information about UVA’s cancer survivorship services.

Mental Health and Chemo Brain

You may experience sadness, depression or anxiety. Consider:

To minimize the effects of chemo brain, keep a detailed daily calendar, set reminders on your phone, follow the same daily routine and focus on one thing at a time.

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