by CATHERINE NGUYEN
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, most Australian adolescents and young adult cancer patients will survive for many years past the completion of their treatment.
While it is a huge relief to finish treatment, it may also be stressful and challenging for you as a young patient to progress to the next phase of your life. Cancer changes you and disrupts the life transitions that you would typically go through as a young adult. After treatment ends, it is not a simple case of returning to the way things used to be. You are likely to see life in a different way, and your goals and priorities may change as a result. You may have conflicting emotions such as happiness over the end of treatment, fear of cancer returning or sadness at the loss of the ‘safe bubble’ of treatment. You may be concerned about no longer ‘fitting in’ with your previous peer groups, or upset that you cannot do some of the things that you used to do. It takes time to adapt to new routines, and some long-term side effects such as fatigue may take time to dissipate as well.
Canteen recommends starting the next phase of your life by creating a ‘new normal’. That may involve changes to what you do, your goals and priorities. Examples include:
- focussing on the present and be positive about the future
- embracing life and celebrating milestones such as birthdays, anniversaries and graduations
- accepting the emotions that come with survivorship through things like anniversaries of diagnosis, or the deaths of other cancer patients
- joining a cancer support group or program such as Canteen’s online community so you can connect with other young people who went through what you’ve been through
Cancer.Net also recommends:
- talking about how you are feeling
- writing in a journal
- helping other young adults with cancer by sharing what you have learned
- doing things you enjoy, or exploring new activities and trying to master new skills
Transitioning to a new normal can be scary, but it is also an opportunity if you choose to embrace it. As Matilda, a young cancer survivor, says: “Cancer sucks all the time, but beating cancer, surviving cancer and realising your strength is so amazingly good.” She thanks cancer for slowing her down, for teaching her what is truly important in life, for giving her courage to do things she never thought she would or knew how, for opening her eyes to all there is to be grateful for and for giving her a new lease on life. Rather than trying to go back to being the old Matilda, she moves forward and makes an impact each day, however big or small.
Vikki, another young survivor, decided to take a break from ‘reality’ to plan her new way forward after completing treatment. She sought out virtual counselling to combat her fears, and learned about self-care and love in the process. Her new mission is to seek out ways to take care of herself while trying to help others. She says “every day is now a new journey as I wake up to life, not depression or sadness”.
Catherine has been volunteering with Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre since 2017, and joined Solaris Cancer Care as a blog writer in early August 2020. She cared for her father and her husband with cancer, and the experiences changed her life. Catherine developed a passion for researching all matters relating to cancer during her husband’s fight, and is keen to continue building on her knowledge and using it to help others.