• Life can look very different after cancer treatment ends
  • It’s ok to not know how you feel, or to have mixed feelings
  • Your plans might have changed since being diagnosed with cancer and that’s ok
  • You might feel like a different person since before your diagnosis. That’s ok too. You’ve been through a lot.

When you’re living with cancer, you tend to spend a lot of time thinking about cancer.

But finally the day arrives when you don’t have to think about those things anymore, and 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 at the moment, 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 doctors 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 now. 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 muddled up. Instead of getting back to ‘normal’, you might feel more like finding a new normal.

So give yourself time and don’t rush to make choices. It might help to think about redefining your life now, rather than rebuilding it.

It can also be good to spend time doing the things you used to do (this can help other people treat you normally again, 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 normal looks like now. 

Changing your plans after cancer treatment

Now can be a good time to look into different options for what you want to do next, especially if you feel differently about what your future 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 to remember is that it should feel right for you. You might want to pick up where you left off with some goals, while others might need a rethink…

  • 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).

Looking for meaning in your cancer experience

Cancer is a life-changer, so 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, though (and remember that not everything you read online is true).

Knowing who you are after cancer treatment

That’s a pretty tricky question at the best of times, but cancer can make it a whole lot trickier. 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
  • Your friends might not know what to say to you, or how to treat you. They might now feel less mature than you as they haven’t had your experience
  • 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, but try to remember that it won’t last.

Doing the things you used to do – like going to school or work or just hanging out with friends – can help people get used to having you around again. And meeting new people can be a good idea too, if you feel up to it.

It can also be difficult getting used to not being the centre of attention anymore. That’s also natural. 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.