The end of treatment doesn’t always mean the end of caregiving. It’s a new chapter for you and your loved one with cancer. It can be an emotionally challenging time for caregivers.
Caregivers and cancer survivors may feel mixed emotions after treatment ends.
Caregivers usually focus on getting their loved one through treatment and may not have thought very much about what will happen after treatment ends. Once treatment ends, you and your loved one will make an important transition. Read the National Cancer Institute’s Facing Forward booklet and the American Cancer Society’s Life After Treatment Guide to understand what that transition may look and feel like.
Finding a New “Normal”
Every cancer experience is different. Some people bounce back quickly to their “old self” and others struggle with treatment side effects, rehabilitation, and mental health issues. Take some time to process and come to terms with what has happened.
Transitioning Out of Caregiving
While caregiving may not end after treatment, you may have an opportunity to start prioritizing your needs more than you were able to during treatment. Take care of your own physical and emotional health, and take time to:
- Catch up on screenings or check-ups with your health care team.
- Eat healthfully and be active.
- Go to counseling or therapy to help you deal with and process your experiences.
- Get back to activities that you enjoy, if you needed to put them on hold for a while.
- Make time to catch up with friends.
- Return to work if you took time off or reduced your schedule.
- Volunteer or support causes that matter to you.
Understand Your Feelings
The end of treatment can be a surprisingly challenging time for caregivers. After serving in this important support role, you might feel less needed or useful. Or, if your loved one has side effects that continue or a terminal diagnosis, you might feel powerless that you cannot do more. Other common feelings for caregivers are:
- Missing the support you had from your loved one’s health care team.
- Feeling lonely because family and friends who were available to help during treatment are no longer available.
- Finding it hard to relate to people who haven't been through the same experience.
- Having mixed feelings if your loved one is struggling with moodiness, depression, or loss of self-esteem.
- Worrying that any small health problem is a sign of the cancer returning.
While you may experience some of these difficult feelings, you may also feel relieved and thankful that your loved one is still in your life. You may also be excited to have more time to do the things you enjoy. It’s okay to have mixed emotions, but if you are having trouble dealing with your feelings, consider seeking help through counseling or a support group or by talking with close friends and family.
If your loved one has long-term or late side effects from treatment, your role as a caregiver may not change much, even though treatment has ended. You may still have to give medications, make your loved one comfortable, prepare meals, provide transportation, and run errands. You may also be needed to help him or her get back to work or on track with healthy habits that couldn’t be maintained during treatment.
It is important to follow the health care team’s recommendations for follow-up care after treatment. Recommendations may include details about MRIs, CT scans, blood work, or other lab tests. The frequency of follow-up visits will depend on the type of cancer and treatment.
If the cancer survivor in your life is struggling with long-term side effects or rehabilitation, he or she may need you to provide practical assistance, such as transportation to appointments, or emotional support to help deal with anger, anxiety, depression, or fear. Your loved one may also want you by their side to provide support and to help them understand what the provider has to say.
Fear of Recurrence
There is no guaranteed way to prevent cancer from coming back, but making healthy lifestyle changes can make recurrence and new cancers less likely. Encourage your loved one to eat right, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, quit smoking, and have any symptoms checked out.
Learn More About Caregiving After Treatment
Check out additional resources to help you after treatment, including Caregiving after Treatment Ends and Facing Forward from the National Cancer Institute, and the American Cancer Society’s Life After Treatment Guide.