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Healthy Balance

Cancer Survivorship Downsides: Chemo Brain, Fatigue, & Depression

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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:

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.

Physical Ailments

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

Fatigue

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:

Chemo Brain

Chemotherapy may cause problems with:

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.

View Transcript
Transcript: The Adult Cancer Survivorship Clinic is designed to meet the unique needs of cancer survivors. It is a collaboration between family medicine and the Emily Couric Cancer Center. As family medicine doctors, we focus on the whole person, not separate parts of the patient. And we feel that this is the perfect ground to really help our cancer patients the most. Every time we meet a new patient, whether you come from outside of UVA or come from within UVA, we will get a thorough history of you. We have a deep understanding of your history. And we apply that knowledge to work towards improved wellbeing in our cancer survivors. We are happy to welcome any cancer survivor at any stage. Our clinic welcomes family members to participate in any way, shape, or form in a patient's cancer care. We are open to them attending clinic visits. They can also attend our peer-to-peer support group, and they can provide support to other family members of patients experiencing cancer.

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:

Mental Health and Chemo Brain

You may experience sadness, depression, or anxiety. Consider:

To minimize the effects of chemo brain:

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