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Jo's Blog

Looking after your mental health after your cancer treatment finishes

Posted on: Wednesday, 12th December 2018 by Dr Lisa Dvorjetz, Counselling Psychologist at The Royal Marsden

What a rollercoaster of emotions it’s been so far. You were given your cervical cancer diagnosis, attended numerous scans and consultations before finally being given treatment. Once treatment finishes, people sometimes assume that they will just ‘move on’ with their lives. If only things were always that straightforward! This blog post is going to talk about the range of emotions that you might feel once treatment has finished, the impact it can have on you and those around you and how to think about where you go from here.

Feeling the emotions

Of course, there are many different kinds of treatment that you may have gone through having been diagnosed with cervical cancer including; surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Most people’s initial thoughts are that they just want the cancer to be taken away and will do whatever it takes to achieve this.  The focus is usually on coming into hospital and having treatment. Most people expect there to be a sense of relief once treatment finishes but often experience a whole range of emotions, such as loss, disappointment, anger, sadness, guilt, fear, anxiety and low mood. The most important thing to remember is that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to feel because everyone’s experience is unique.

Loss and Adjustment

You might be surprised to hear that the end of treatment can sometimes be seen as a grieving process because of the losses that people experience. Many women talk about how they no longer see themselves as the same person before as they were diagnosed with cancer. They feel a sense of loss around their identity, roles, femininity, sexuality and body image. Some women have lost friendships along the way, because those around them either don’t understand what they’re going through or else don’t know what to say and therefore avoid contact. It can also happen the other way round - some women feel they can no longer connect with their friends because it can feel very painful seeing others ‘moving on’ with their lives when they can sometimes feel ‘stuck’. There can be a sense of loss around the imagined future pre-cancer, for example, women who had imagined child-bearing and may no longer be able to. Finishing treatment can also bring on a sense of loss of safety as hospital appointments decrease and there is less contact with healthcare professionals. This can feel quite scary and overwhelming.

Re-connecting and re-evaluating

The process of adjustment requires people to re-connect with different aspects of themselves that may have changed along the way. Again, there is no set timeframe in thinking about how long this process can take.

Body

Your body has just been through some major physical changes and therefore will require time for healing. The same can be applied to your emotional wellbeing. Some women can find it helpful to think about how they can get to know their bodies again. What was it that you appreciated about your body before the diagnosis? What aspects of your body gave you confidence? What made you feel like a woman? What adjustments can be made for you to be able to feel those things again?

Relationships

It is inevitable that through the cancer experience your friendship and relationship dynamics have changed. If you have always been a very independent person then it can be very difficult to be dependent on others. One of the most common things I hear in counselling sessions is “they don’t understand what I’ve been through”. You’re right, those closest to you can never fully understand what it was like for you to have cancer. At the same time, this is why communicating to others about your needs and wants will be important. If you want people to stop ‘fixing’ things when you are trying to tell them how you feel, then perhaps you can tell them that you just want them to listen. Or that you just want a hug. You will slowly start to discover those people around you who can give you what you need.

Values

With the acknowledgement of the losses through cancer can also come a sense of feeling lost in life. When treatment finishes there can be an overarching sense of worry about ‘what if the cancer returns?’ How do you carry on while these thoughts are going through your mind? One of the ways to help answer that question is to have a think about what matters most to you in life and what gives you a sense of purpose. Friendships or relationships? Work? Sports? Nature? Travelling? What motivates you to get out of bed every day? Those are the things that are important to focus on as a way to help re-gain a sense of who you are (regardless of the cancer) and give you the reminder as to why you went through your treatment in the first place.

Support

If you would like to read more information on how to cope after your treatment has finished, Macmillan have resources available on their website that specifically focuses on this topic. If you feel that talking to a trained mental health professional (e.g. psychologist) can be helpful then the Maggie’s Centres across the country offer free counselling to help explore some of the issues mentioned above. Private talking therapy can be accessed by searching online but always make sure your therapist is accredited by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) as they will adhere to ethical standards set in their respective professions.

 

If you would like to talk to other women who have had similar experiences to you, visit our online forum. We also have a free helpline you can call on 0808 802 8000.

Categories: cervical cancer

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