by Diane Townsend, MSW, Department of Social Service, Adult Sites McGill University Health Centre
Now that your treatment has ended, you may find yourself flooded with a range of emotions from relief and joy to guilt, fear and anxiety. You may experience all these feelings at the same time. This is normal as each individual’s experience is unique to them. Life after cancer involves many physical and emotional changes as you adjust to a “new normal” way of life. You may find that different things are more important to you now as your priorities may have changed after having cancer. Some people may wish to return to their jobs soon after completing treatment in order to feel that they are resuming the way of life they had before the cancer diagnosis. Others may wish to not return to work right away, preferring to take some time to rest and reflect on how they wish to spend their time. Family, friends and colleagues may not understand that you will likely not be able to immediately “bounce back” to former routines and activities, as you may continue to experience fatigue and temporary cognitive changes during your recovery.
Your oncology social worker is able to help you and your family cope and adjust to potential changes in your relationships, your work life, finances, leisure time, and daily routines. At times, these life changes may be permanent. Family members may have difficulties adjusting to potential changes that occur in your life, and may feel that their needs are being neglected. A clinical social worker can provide counselling to you and your family as changing roles are being worked through. It will be important to allow yourself and your family members the time and space to adapt to any changes that may occur after cancer.
Many people who have completed cancer treatment find that a support group where they can connect with other survivors can provide them with emotional support and reassurance as they cope with different emotions, and navigate the changes in their lives. An oncology social worker can refer you or family members to support groups in your area.
Information on other community resources such as government employment training programs, public and private home assistance agencies, and financial aid programs can also be obtained from your social worker.
Survivorship programs designed for individuals who have completed cancer treatment are useful resources to access support in areas such as diet, exercise, rehabilitation and psychosocial therapy. The Cancer Nutrition Rehabilitation (CNR) program at the McGill University Health Centre is one such program, in which an interdisciplinary team comprised of a medical oncologist, nurse, physiotherapist, social worker, occupational therapist and psychologist helps participants in the program improve their quality of life by setting personal goals.
The oncology social worker is available and trained to respond to your needs after treatment ends. By providing you and your family with counselling support, and information on useful community and financial resources, your social worker is in a position to help you cope and adjust to any life changes that may arise.