How Ending Treatment May Impact Your Emotions
When initial treatment ends, you and your caregivers may feel relief that you’ve made it through all the appointments, medicines, and physical demands of breast cancer. You might also feel adrift or lost because you’re not seeing your providers as often.
Though the end of treatment marks an important health milestone, the emotional impact of breast cancer may continue. How long varies by person.
Finishing chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other treatments can be a relief, foster a sense of accomplishment, and be difficult, all at the same time. During treatment, you may not have had time to think about all that has happened. Afterward, you may go through a period when you feel good about getting through this challenge. Or, you could find yourself feeling vulnerable because you’re not seeing your medical team as often.
You might worry about aches and pains or other signs and symptoms. Some women taking targeted and hormonal therapies after primary treatment also may worry about possible side effects of those medicines.
After being so proactive in your treatment, feelings of sadness, anger, or worry about the future are valid, reasonable, and normal. Many women also report that going through treatment has impacted their outlook in a positive way as they move forward with their lives.
The weeks at the end of treatment are very challenging because your life is changing quickly. Along with your relief that treatment is almost over may come worries about moving forward and losing the close monitoring and attention you had during active treatment.
You may feel that you are no longer being proactive, or that you “lost control” of your health, especially if you can’t take a long-term hormonal or targeted therapy. Since you don’t see your doctors as often as you did before, you may lack support or a point person to answer your questions.
All of these responses are normal and valid, after the intense experiences of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Regaining a sense of control takes time, and it’s OK to ask for help. Let your healthcare team know how you’re feeling. Ask for an appointment, even before your scheduled follow-up visit, to discuss any worries or concerns. Get in touch with women who are going through the same experiences. You may want to contact LBBC’s Breast Cancer Helpline at (888) 753-LBBC (5222) to connect one-on-one with someone who has been there.
Fear of recurrence, or of the cancer coming back, is common. After you finish treatment, you may carry your fears with you, or you might feel ready to move on and stop thinking about cancer.
Although your fears about recurrence may change over time, right now going to follow-up visits or getting regular tests might be upsetting. Or, you may find these check-ups and tests reassuring. Whatever your feelings, it’s important to continue doing these things, even if you’re uncomfortable.
Your doctor should outline a survivorship care plan with you, based on your own individual needs. Be sure to share your concerns and ask questions about this plan so that you can trust that your healthcare team is monitoring you appropriately.
After you finish breast cancer treatment, you may no longer feel like yourself, or worry that others see changes in you, too. But change is not always negative, and facing adversity like breast cancer can for a few people prompt positive psychological changes known as post-traumatic growth.
Some aspects of post-traumatic growth after breast cancer treatment may include
- finding you are more confident, emotionally strong and willing to try new things
- improved relationships, as you begin to focus on what’s important to you
- positive shifts in personal goals, career choices, intimate relationships, and connections to family, friends and community
Whether changes in you, your lifestyle or your relationships are large or small, they are still changes. Knowing about the tools and supports can help you manage what’s happening in your life right now. It might even prompt you to chart a new course for your life.
As you transition into your life after initial treatment, your circle of support may seem more distant. When your loved ones see you feeling better on the outside, they may not understand that cancer and cancer treatment can still affect you on the inside. You may feel angry or alone because of these changes.
As you continue to recover, you may need to share your ongoing needs with your support circle. Try to help them better understand how you’re feeling and what type of support you’d like from them.
It may feel like reminders of breast cancer are everywhere. Frequent news coverage and statistics about breast cancer can influence your feelings. Hair loss, weight gain or loss, scars, insomnia, fatigue, lymphedema, and troubles with intimacy can alter your body image and affect self-esteem.
Milestones can also trigger powerful feelings — you may feel intense joy at happy occasions or mixed, bittersweet emotions at other times. The date of your diagnosis, surgery, or completion of treatment may be a positive time, or bring back distressing feelings.
If you feel stress around holidays, birthdays, the anniversary of your diagnosis, or other life events, consider these tips:
- Ask family members or friends to help with holiday matters, such as putting up decorations, cleaning, or making meals
- Find a friend familiar with your personal history to spend time talking with you about your feelings
- Focus on things you enjoy, such as spending time with loved ones, relaxing, or doing favorite hobbies and activities
- Celebrate milestones with gatherings or meals to bring your circle of support together, thanking them, or reminding them they are still important in your life
- Connect with a peer who knows what you are going through on our Breast Cancer Helpline. Helpline volunteers offer guidance and support