What happens when cancer treatment ends?

When your cancer treatment ends, life can look different. It can feel hard to get back to ‘normal’, or even work out what that means for you. Read more about finding a new routine and planning for your next steps when cancer treatment ends.

  • Life can look very different after cancer treatment ends
  • It’s ok to not know how you feel, or to have mixed feelings
  • Give yourself time and don’t rush to make choices

What does remission mean?

Remission describes when the signs and symptoms of cancer are no longer visible. 

What happens when I finish treatment?

When you’re living with cancer, you tend to spend a lot of time thinking about it – and about doctors, nurses, hospitals, tests, side effects and everything else that goes with your diagnosis. 

But when the day arrives when you don’t have to think about those things anymore everything can feel a bit weird and even slightly scary. 

Many young people tell us that finishing treatment can feel like an anti-climax. The routine and security of the hospital isn’t there anymore. 

If the world seems strange after finishing treatment, don’t worry. No matter how much you’ve been looking forward to it, it takes time to adjust to life after cancer. Your medical team will understand this and will help you to transition. 

Can I go back to normal after cancer treatment?

You and the people close to you have come through a massive challenge. But getting over cancer doesn’t happen when you get rid of the disease. 

Once your cancer treatment ends, you’ll keep seeing your care team for a while and they’ll give you plenty of support. But the world might still seem different to how it used to. 

In fact, it can be hard to work out what ‘normal’ is or what that means. That can be exciting, because you can begin again however you want, but it can be confusing too. 

You might have new plans, a new outlook, new priorities. You might feel different physically. You might simply feel tired and confused. Instead of getting back to ‘normal’, you might feel more like finding a new normal. 

Give yourself time and don’t rush to make choices. It might help to think about redefining your life, rather than rebuilding it. Think about what you want your life to look like now, rather than trying to recreate your exact life before cancer. 

It can also be good to spend time doing the things you used to do – this can be a good way to spend time with friends and family too. 

And remember that it’s OK to have bad days. You don’t need to pretend to be fine if you’re feeling down. As time goes by, chances are you’ll get more used to what your life looks like after treatment. 

Should I change my plans after cancer treatment?

Now can be a good time to look into different options for your future, especially if you feel differently about what that might look like now. It can help to talk to family, friends, careers advisers, social workers, religious leaders: anyone whose advice you trust. 

Writing down short or long-term goals can help too. 

The most important thing is to do whatever feels right for you.  

  • If cancer has affected your body, your energy levels or your emotional state, you might not feel able to follow the plans you used to have. This can be hard to adjust to, but don’t rush to find a new direction. The time will come when you feel ready to think about different opportunities. 

  • Maybe you’re thinking about aiming towards a totally new career. You might want to work in healthcare after seeing the amazing work your care team does during your cancer treatment (or maybe you never want to set foot in a hospital again). Whatever you’re thinking, speaking to a careers adviser can help you figure things out. 

  • Maybe you’ve got no idea what you want to do. That’s nothing to worry about. This is a tough time, and no one will blame you for feeling confused. (And plenty of people live a happy life without ever really knowing what they want to do). 

You can find more information on careers, apprenticeships and training in your country on the following websites: 

England: nationalcareers.service.gov.uk

Northern Ireland: www.nidirect.gov.uk/careers-service  

Scotland: www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk  

Wales: www.careerswales.gov.wales 

Is there any meaning in my cancer experience?

It’s not unusual to think about the impact it’s had on you. A lot of people want to know why it happened to them, what it means and what they can learn from it. 

You might feel it’s left you feeling stronger and able to enjoy life more. Perhaps you prefer just to accept that it’s happened and move on. Or maybe you’re swinging between feeling positively and negatively about what you’ve gone through. 

Everyone’s experience is different. But if you do find yourself wanting to talk about issues like these, try your friends and family. There’s a chance you’ll even find they’ve been asking themselves similar questions. 

Online forums can be helpful too, as they can put in you in touch with people your age who have been through cancer. Or maybe you don’t want to talk to another person about your experience – and that’s okay too. 

Remember that everyone’s experience is different, and everyone’s experience is equally valid.  

Who am I after cancer treatment?

That’s a tricky question at the best of times, but cancer can make it even harder. There are various reasons you might not feel quite like you used to: 

  • The way you look and the way you see yourself might have changed (which can hit your confidence and self-esteem) 

  • You might feel like your relationships with the people close to you have changed 

  • You might feel more mature and stronger 

  • You might value different things 

  • People might treat you differently, even if you’re no longer living with cancer 

It can be frustrating if people act strangely or single you out. Doing the things you used to do – like going to school or work or just spending time with friends – can help again. Meeting new people can be a good idea too, if you feel up to it. 

It’s a confusing time, so don’t rush to figure out who you are. Identity constantly changes, and after living through cancer it’s not unusual to feel a bit lost for a while. 

Finally, you might find it helps not to set your expectations too high. If you go back to school or work expecting everything to be just like it used to be, you might be disappointed. But if you prepare yourself for things to take time or to feel weird for a bit, it might make the experience easier. 

What should I do if I’m not ready to get back into things?

You might find some people struggle to understand why you can’t just go back to being exactly how you were before. Phrases like ‘get over it’ and ‘move on’ aren’t useful but that doesn’t mean you won’t hear them. 

If you feel like people are pressuring you to get back into things you were doing before your diagnosis, try to explain that even though your treatment is over, you still need to deal with what’s happened – in your own way and in your own time. 

And if you notice you’re finding life after cancer particularly challenging, it’s important to speak to someone about that. It could be someone close to you like a family member, a doctor or nurse, your Youth Support Coordinator or a clinical psychologist or counsellor. 

The time after treatment can be one of the most challenging to get used to and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help.