Skip to Main Content
African American Mother and Daughter Embracing outside on a deck, smiling at the camera

Living as a Cancer Survivor: Six Ways Life Can Change, and How to Cope

By CHI Health Cancer Team June 17, 2019 Posted in: Cancer Care

More people are living as cancer survivors than ever before, thanks to advances in cancer care. In fact, an estimated 16.9 million cancer survivors were living in the United States in January of 2019, and that number is expected to increase to 21.7 million by 2029.¹

Many cancer survivors experience a change in perspective after a cancer diagnosis. They find new meaning and value in life, and ways to express love and appreciation. But the process isn’t without challenges; cancer survivors often describe concerns and difficulties.

Living well in cancer survivorship is possible, but it’s essential to acknowledge struggles and seek help when needed. Cancer can present challenges but here are some tips for coping.

Physical Challenges after Cancer Treatment

Cancer survivors can experience fatigue and diminished energy, sleep issues, pain and neuropathy (weakness, numbness and pain). Suggestions for coping include:

  • Exercise, eat well and rest
  • Take your medications as prescribed
  • Try diversional activities (pet therapy, outings, gardening, games, crafts, etc.)
  • Listen to your body
  • Stop smoking

Feeling Depressed after Chemotherapy?

Feelings can become intense and cancer survivors can experience depression, anxiety, hypervigilance and a fear of recurrence, as well as grief and loss. They can also struggle with body image. On the other hand, some survivors experience joy and appreciation. Either way, it’s a “new normal.” Ways to adapt:

  • Express your emotions
  • Develop a stress management plan – relax, breathe in and breathe out (try journaling, art, music, meditation, etc.)
  • Talk to supportive people and/or attend a cancer support group
  • Use laughter as a tool
  • Recognize this is a transitional time and be more accepting of yourself
  • Adopt an attitude of optimism

"Brain Fog" and Mental Fatigue

Cancer survivors can experience “brain fog” and challenges with memory, concentration and comprehension. It can get better. Things that can help:

  • Brain exercises – learn, stretch, and grow (try crossword and Suduko puzzles, games)
  • Use tools and technology to keep yourself organized
  • Be sure to get adequate sleep
  • Focus on one task at a time

Develop a Strong Social Support System

Cancer can upset the apple cart in terms your social life. Family members and friends may take on new roles and have new expectations. Your social support system can change and the intimacy of relationships can shift. Ways to cope:

  • Maintain healthy relationships – express your needs and capabilities
  • Make new friends
  • Choose a group or new hobby that interests you
  • Consider volunteering
  • Communicate intimacy concerns with your partner

Spiritual Challenges after Cancer

A life-changing diagnosis can result in finding new meaning in life. It can also alter who you are and how you fit into the world. Some find their faith is challenged. To regain a sense of spiritual wellness after surviving cancer, take steps to:

  • Develop a personal spirituality
  • Find meaning in your life
  • Connect with a faith community of your choice
  • Appreciate nature

Address Changes to Personal Finances

Any serious illness can impact the practical aspects of life. Work, insurance and even changes in appearance can present unexpected challenges. Suggestions to overcome these issues include:

  • Review your personal finances and plan
  • Learn about your work and insurance benefits
  • Use resources available through CHI Health Cancer Support Services
  • Find places that can help you address appearance and physical changes like the Renewed Hope Boutique


CHI Health Cancer Team
CHI Health Cancer Team

These blogs were written by members of the CHI Health Cancer Care Team.

Related Articles

Helpful Tips for Successful Recovery From Prostate Surgery

JUL 17, 2024

Patients benefit from being prepared in advance of prostate surgery so that bowel, bladder, and erectile functions return to normal as quickly as possible.

Read More

Cancer and Good Mental Health

MAY 10, 2024

Mental health conditions can be exacerbated by the psychological stress of a cancer diagnosis, physical symptoms, and fear of cancer progression or recurrence. Our therapist offers tips for maintaining good mental health.

Read More

All About Bile Duct Cancers

FEB 27, 2024

Bile duct cancers are a very diverse group of gastrointestinal cancers that originate from the bile duct system that is contained both within and outside the liver.

Read More