Many people talk about a feeling of ‘the circus leaving town’ in the days and weeks after active treatment finishes. As your family and friends return to their own daily routines, it may be hard for you to fit back into your old life, and you may start to look back on everything that has happened to you.
Some days you may feel that you are recovering well; but other days may be a struggle, leaving you feeling low. After the regular contact of treatment, it’s not unusual to feel isolated and lonely. After the shock of diagnosis and the demands of treatment it can also be a relief to be feeling more normal and looking forward to a more comfortable and healthy future, but it can also be a time of mixed emotions. Psychological recovery is very individual and can take much longer than the medical side of things. It helps to be patient and to be gentle on yourself.
Some of the emotions and feelings you will experience after treatment may be very powerful or unpleasant and may be new to you – but they are normal. On the whole people don’t talk much about the way cancer makes them feel. They can feel under pressure to be positive and not to appear low or negative. On some level, things will never be quite the same again, and it can take time to discover and learn how to live with your ‘new normal’.
Treatment for bowel cancer can put a considerable strain on your body and this can often have a profound psychological effect. Worry and fatigue can leave you feeling much more emotional than you were before; you may feel very ‘thin skinned’. You may experience a whole range of unexpected emotions, such as feeling withdrawn, fearful or disassociated, guilt at having survived, low self-confidence, irritability, frustration, poor concentration or ‘foggy brain’.
These feelings may be fleeting, but if you feel this way for a lot of the time, it is important to seek help from your GP or your hospital team. They will be able to help by referring you to a psychologist or counsellor, or by recommending a support group you could join. Sometimes, medication is required to help with depression or anxiety.
Cancer patients often try to protect their loved ones from how bad they are feeling at times. However, it’s important to share your thoughts with someone, whether a friend or family member, a health professional, or with other people who are going through the same experiences as you.
Beating Bowel Cancer supports a lively community of patients, survivors and relatives in our online forum, and local Facebook groups where you can get in touch with other bowel cancer patients in your area.
There is more advice in this booklet: ‘Afterwards – recovering from the impact of cancer treatment’ by Dr Mike Osborn