This post was originally published in June 2020 and updated in June 2021.
After cancer treatment, you may be surprised to discover that your life isn’t quite the same as before. In fact, symptoms may continue for months or years, including:
- Brain fog
The Challenges of Cancer Survivorship
Anticipating the changes of cancer survivorship can help you cope and thrive despite the obstacles.
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. That's especially true if you didn’t take the time to grieve while you were undergoing treatment.
Chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and medications can come with lingering side effects. Those include:
- Weight gain
- Nerve damage
- Tooth decay
- Bladder control issues
- Hearing loss
- Heart and lung damage
Fatigue is common after cancer treatment. It affects between 80% to 100% of cancer patients, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). According to the ACS, the reasons for fatigue include:
- Toxic substances that affect the way the body’s cells work
- A build-up of cell waste materials
- Hormone and protein level changes
Chemotherapy may cause problems with:
- The ability to master new skills
The ACS reports that chemo brain is usually a short-term problem. You’re more likely to have it if you received high doses of chemotherapy or radiation to the brain.
Cancer Survivorship & Chronic Treatment
These problems aren’t unique to people who finished their treatment. At UVA’s Survivorship Clinic, “we not only see cancer survivors who have completed treatment, but we also see patients who have active disease and are in the throes of therapy,” explains clinic director Denise “Annie” Way, MD. “For example, I may see a metastatic melanoma patient who has survived for 10 years, yet is still in treatment.”
Watch Way explain how UVA's program works with patients and their families.
Dealing with Cancer-Related Changes
Finding your new normal takes some time, no matter what type of cancer or treatment. 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.
Physical and Mental Health
Custom Survivorship Support at UVA
Get help with symptoms. Take free exercise classes. Meet with other survivors.
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
Mental Health and Chemo Brain
You may experience sadness, depression, or anxiety. Consider:
- Talking with your friends or a mental health professional
- Trying stress relief techniques
- Attending virtual cancer support group meetings
To minimize the effects of chemo brain:
- Keep a detailed daily calendar
- Set reminders on your phone
- Follow the same daily routine
- Focus on one thing at a time
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