5 Things They Never Tell You About Life After Cancer

What they never tell you about life after cancer.

They’ll tell you how to cope during treatment, but life after cancer has it’s own battles. Because treatment ends, but cancer never truly leaves you…At 17, I fought an advanced form of cancer at a world renowned hospital. I was given every form of support and educational resource possible, from counselors to peer mentors. What they didn’t tell me is that after cancer, new battles will arise. And I’m sure some survivors won’t resonate with a few of these, but for me, I wish someone had warned me…

It will be hard to go ‘back to normal’

It’s not as if chemo ends and you just walk right back into the real world. It takes time for everything to fall into place: the hair to grow back, the strength to live normally and exercise regularly, the body to return to it’s familiar shape and routines. And there are bigger things that sometimes never fall into place, like talking to people who haven’t had cancer about what it’s like to face the possibility of death. For me, that meant I lost a few friends when I came back. It was hard to relate to people my age when, at 18, I had just seen the other side of our mortality. Then again, my new normal is much more rewarding than the normal I knew before cancer. My ‘normal’ now has a sense of precious urgency, a feeling that life is fleeting and so should be treasured, enjoyed, not taken to seriously and yet so daringly explored.

Most importantly, time will never move the same again. In your life after cancer, when it feels like time is flying by, it will scare you. When it feels like time is crawling and you’re dying to get past a difficult phase, you’ll feel guilty for not appreciating the time you have, and being grateful for any battle that isn’t cancer. It will simply never be the same again.

Some people will not like seeing pictures of you

I’m not sure why people feel it’s appropriate to tell me that they “don’t like” seeing pictures of me during treatment, when I was bald and overweight from the steroids. I personally think I look great, because I’m doing something incredible. They often tell me that pictures of me during treatment make them sad, which is strange because they don’t make me sad and I’m the one who went through it! So as far as this survivor is concerned, if I can take the experience itself as well as the photographic proof, so can you. Don’t tell me it makes you sad, in fact don’t feel bad for me at all. Be proud of it, be in awe of it, and see that this is the story of triumph, not tragedy.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I will say I find it mildly offensive when you tell me you don’t want to see pictures of me during cancer treatment. It’s the single hardest, most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Why not rather than pity me, you feel empowered by me. I’ve been through some tough shit. There’s nothing sad about that, at least I don’t derive sadness from it… in fact, from where I’m standing, there’s only POWER in that.

Things they never tell you about life after cancer. An inspiring article for cancer survivors and their families from HerAfter.com. Click to read! via Positive Affirmations E-Course. Click HERE to learn more

There will be a new sense of fear in every part of your life

It just doesn’t look the same once you know how fragile your life is. That fear, of the past and of it coming back, can haunt you for the rest of your life after cancer. But what I like to tell others in my public speeches and online articles (even the ones not about cancer) is that even though there will always be fear, you don’t have to let that fear decide what you do and how you feel. You don’t have to let that fear run your life or even ruin your mood. You can feel it, acknowledge it, and still choose to love and to be joyous and even to take risks in your life after cancer (whether you’ve experienced it or someone you love). You don’t have to be ruled by it; you just have to choose to live from and for something greater than that fear.

There will be some awkward conversations…

In life after cancer and treatment, even the physical parts of your being are different. Especially when it comes to dating. There are scars. There is skin that is very tender to the touch because of the radiation. There are hangups and insecurities that are caused by the way my body is different now. So yes, there will be a level of communication absolutely necessary to make sure both partners are comfortable.

And there will be even worse conversations about it. There will have to be talks about what the future looks like with someone who has been through treatment, and who can never guarantee that it won’t come back. There will have to be talks about what life would look like if it did come back. There will have to be a shared courage around it. There will have to be openness and honesty to a degree that most couples don’t have to offer. But trust me, it will make your love so much richer and more incredible.

People will be scared to ask you questions (even though they’ll have a lot of questions)

I’m not sure why people are scared to talk to me about it. I know they are just trying to be gracious, and I can’t speak for all survivors, but as far as this one goes: ask away. If you have a question, let me answer it. If you wonder something – from what it’s like to be on steroids to whether I lost my eyelashes and eyebrows too – go ahead! Sure there are days in my regular, healthy life after cancer that I’m not giddy to talk about it. But when it really comes down to facts, I’d rather help you understand so that if ever you know someone who has to go through this battle. That way, you’ll know more of what to expect and what that person might need. Additionally, if you’re my friend, I’d like you to know me. So don’t be afraid of me or afraid to talk to me, it only makes me feel ‘othered’ as Janet Mock says.

The truth is, every cancer fighter’s experience will be incredible different. The fact that we need to talk more about the struggles after cancer is a very good sign to me, because it shows that we are at a point where survival is up, and people are looking to thrive and live well after cancer. So don’t be afraid to talk about it, don’t be afraid to reach out.

If you are in need of help or support in life after cancer or during treatment, check out my friends at I Had Cancer. They offer a network of fellow cancer fighters and survivors to connect with, plus great articles on life during and after treatment.

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18 thoughts on “5 Things They Never Tell You About Life After Cancer

  1. Great piece. Thanks for sharing. I haven’t had the luck of having cancer survivors in my family–they’ve been unfortunately taken, so I got a different perspective with your article.

  2. Thanks for the response Laura! I have lost many of my family members to cancer too, which is maybe why I’m so adamant about being empowered in my life AFTER cancer. I hope you have been able to find some peace in your journey toward healing, and if you need someone to talk to you can always write me! xoxo

  3. I appreciate reading this story, for it relates back to memories of when I had cancer. It may not be cancer as we know it for there are so many different kinds that affect a lot of people in many different ways. I had skin cancer and it scared me a lot. Yes I had surgery but am so glad that God was with me and I had a Christian family for support. I seen small children who had the same kind of cancer with scares all over their bodies, we must remember that some are so ashamed of it that they do not speak of it openly. We ALL need prayers and support, in different ways. God be with each and everyone. He will give you love and support, please believe HE has and had HIS reasons, hopefully some day we will know why. God Bless each and every one out there.

  4. My family too has been wiped out from cancer And when I was diagnosed I thought it was the end of the world and cried all the time. I’ve come a long way and with support and strength I’ve made a 5 year anniversary just last week. but the fear of it always coming back is there and I wish that would leave But I always say It’s good to be seen and I’m here to tell you about it..

  5. This article popped up in my Pinterest account and it is just what I needed to read. To see everything I’m feeling spelled out like that was so validating. I finished chemo a month ago for Mediastinal Bcell lymphoma. Having to do chemo in patient what so hard on my and on my small children. This past month has been mentally hard on me. I want to look like my old self again, feel good again, it’s a process.

  6. Amazingly true!! Very well said!!
    During cancer we were basically shunned by family. Friends were few and new were made! My husband was amazing!! We got a shitzu puppy during chemo the best anti-depressant ever!! But yes once your done and we moved to try to get financially stable again, no where close yet, new doctors.
    People don’t say what to expect or how to handle the new feelings and physical changes. One fellow survivor and bestest friend helped me through every step!! But today is my day and the next and the next and I will love every ache and pain and every happiness and joyful time!! Thank you God for always taking care of me!!

  7. One year ago today I discovered a lump under my left breast. 5 days later I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer. Today I’m facing a better day. Chemo is done! Radiation is done! Two surgeries are done! I will continue treatments for another 4 months. Thank you for posting this. I can say I have spent many hours trying to figure out what me new normal looks like. I have days filled with frightened thoughts of reoccurrence. I know my body is in recovery…and today is a good day. I embrace the days ahead with excitement. I look at each day as a new way to show my family how much I love and care for them,appreciate them. I want everything I do leave some kind of impression. I am stronger and wiser today. This year I have learned many things about myself. I am greatful. Tomorrow is something I have stopped worrying about. We live for today.
    Jan 6th 2016

  8. Thank you for this article. The hardest part for me has been life after cancer. This new body I have to get used to. The quiet fear of the cancer returning. And wrestling with my purpose now. It is so true, every day is a gift. I do not feel tomorrow is guaranteed. I am more hopeful than hopeless, that is for sure. Sending love and strength to each of you.

  9. Thank you for writing this piece. I am a brand new survivor. The official word I am CANCER FREE (YAY) but I still have to have radiation. I have been very brazen with my baldness so most of my good friends have witnessed this whether they wanted to or not. Because Bald is Beautiful!!! I haven’e had many questions yet & I have a feeling that is about to start soon. But i had no idea what else to expect so thank you for the insight. Now I will know when these feelings & times come that it is normal!

    Thank you again….so very much,


  10. Thank you for your amazing article! I am currently battling 2 cancers, uterine and ovarian, at 33 years old. Total hysterectomy & I had treatment #5 yesterday only one more chemo & then radiation therapy. I didnt even think about after treatment. I blindly thought that everything will go back to normal. But I have a long road as all of you ladies have proved that I can do it!! Thank you all for your information and HerAfter thank you for the truth & your wonderful blog.

  11. This article has made me feel less alone then i have in a long time im at this time almost 1yr in remission after IBC
    I had chemotherapy followed by double masectomy and finished my cocktail of treatment on radiotherapy i mark my 1yr on 24/05/17..its a tough road but i see the sunshinning through it now.. my road is still a long way away but each step is now a stepping stone to wards my future ty for your article it has shown me im on the right road..yes there will be hiccups but there lessons for us to learn from much love to all my survivor sisters x

  12. Finally, someone gets it. I was told by someone I love,”Treatment is done, get over it.” This is not the flu…….this is the new normal. Yes, we have changed forever.

  13. Thank you for this article. I have stage 4 lung cancer that metastasized to my brain. Successful brain surgery in Feb. then radiation to the brain to try and shrink the small tumors. The tumor in my lung could not be operated so an aggressive treatment of chemo and radiation at the same time followed for 8 weeks. My last tests show the treatment has been right, but I now have to be tested every 3 months for a long stretch ahead. I know my family and friends are happy to hear a positive story but I feel the future will hold more cancer for me. I’m not afraid but living with the feeling …when will the shoe drop is not easy. I am grateful to everyone who has shared here. It’s always good to know I am not alone.

  14. Thank you for this article. I too had many questions about life after Cancer. I had Uterine Cancer (Serous) had both Chemotherapy and Radiation therapy. Completed my treatment in June,of this year. Its good to hear that I’m not the only one with all the questions of Why I still don’t feel normal or why I can’t get back to my old self, why I feel so Insecure, why I feel I can’t function like I did before. ON AND ON. Every one tells me one day at a time. Only those of us who have been through this awful journey can understand. Having a great support system is very important even after treatment. GOD bless us in our continued journey.

    1. Hi Angie. YES so true, everyone tells you just take it one day at a time, and that’s great advice but for those of us who’ve been through it, we know sometimes just making it through one single day without feeling overwhelmed by both fear (what if it comes back?) and gratitude (why have I been able to survive?) can be so daunting. You can write to me any time at rachaelafter@gmail.com if ever you need someone to talk to about your journey through life after cancer. So happy to hear you are all finished with treatment and now comes for the most challenging but rewarding part – living your life to the fullest!! Love and light to you!

  15. I had to write something in response to this article/blog because I was so moved and touched by what you had to say about cancer/treatment after. I like most all of you have experienced almost every one of the moments mentioned. And truth is life will never be the same for me, but I view that as a Great thing. Cancer has definitely made me not only a new person but a better, compassionate person. And though I went through very rough and hard times with it. I too feel gracious because it was all worth me being the wonderful human being I am today and days to come. So thank you so much for making a difference and sharing your experience with us all.

  16. Thank you for you stories. . It’s truthful and open. Am on my 6 year and at times have moments of doubt and family/friend’s don’t understand you.. I feel blessed that I was strong enough to survive… so I bless each and everyone of you going though or survive this part of you journey. May you be blessed with Love,Peace and Happiness. Thank you for sharing your story..

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