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Colorectal Cancer: Post Treatment 6 Months Plus: Emotional Well Being:Stages 0,I


While you were lucky that your cancer was caught early and eliminated, it is not unusual for different feelings to surface unexpectedly over time. Anxiety, fear and even depression can surface particularly before a medical appointment or test.

There are likely to be a large number of people you haven’t told about your experience with the attendant stress which comes from keeping a secret.

To help cope, consider the following time tested ideas:

EmotionsTo Watch For

It is common to feel anxiety or even panic about whether colorectal cancer will come back (known as "fear of recurrence"). This is particularly to be expected when a medical checkup is scheduled or you get any physical symptoms such as a cold. (Survivorship A to Z provides information about how to get through the often anxiety provoking period of waiting for test results).

It is not unusual to feel out of place or alone in a world of healthy people. It is likely that colorectal cancer caused you to look at death, perhaps for the first time. The experience may have changed your perspective and what is important to you.

There are likely to be a large number of people you haven’t told about your experience with the attendant stress which comes from keeping a secret.

Watch for signs of depression. Depression is not unusual - especially during the first 24 months after the end of treatment. Depression is usually treatable.

How To Cope With Ongoing Emotional and Social Needs

  • Use whatever coping mechanisms you used to get you through difficult life experiences.
    • They worked before. They are likely to work again.
    • A few examples of what has worked for other people may help trigger thoughts about what has worked for you in the past:
      • Kristy irons naked.
      • Jamie cleans when she starts to feel overwhelmed by emotion.
      • Terri created a corner of her home that felt sacred. Such a apace may only have a candle or some fresh flowers. She spent about 10 minutes a day being there - taking deep breaths, giving herself pep talks, and saying prayers.
  • Share your emotions.
    • Don't keep them bottled up. Share them with family members and/or friends and sympathetic co-workers. (Keep in mind that, unlike employers, co-workers are not legally required to keep your personal information confidential. For more information, see our document about disclosing your condition to co-workers, and your legal rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act.)
    • Write in a journal.
    • Create art.
  • Make contact with another person who has gone through a similar cancer experience about the same time you did. (A colorectal cancer buddy)
    • If you were treated for cancer 10 years ago, the experience was likely different than the experience of a person who was treated 5 years ago and from a person treated today.
    • You can find other long term survivors through a variety of sources including:
    • A national disease specific nonprofit organization, such as Colon Cancer Alliance, offsite link, tel: 877.422.2030 or The American Cancer Society: offsite link or 800.ACS.2345.
    • The Cancer Support Community (formerly Gildas Club Worldwide and The Wellness Community). See: offsite link.
    • The ACOR long term survivors list connects people with similar cancers online. See: offsite link Click on "Mailing Lists." Then, under "Survivorship," click on "Long Term Survivors."
    • Your cancer center or possibly staff in your cancer doctor's office.
    • Young men and women: Check out the following organizations devoted to young people with cancer:
  • Consider Writing And Creative Activities
    • Experience indicates that expressing emotions through writing or other creative activities helps people copeThere is no right or wrong way to write or to be creative. You don't need to show your writings or creations to anyone if you would prefer to keep them private.
    • If you haven't kept a journal before, Survivorship A to Z provides tips. Click here.
  • Consider Joining A Support Group
    • Consider joining a support group of people who are post treatment for about the same amount of time you are.
    • If you finished treatment five years ago, you won't likely find much support in a group of people who just completed treatment.
    • Many cancer centers have support groups for longer term survivors. Or you can find a support through the resources noted above about making contact with another person. 
    • In addition to emotional support, groups are a great source of practical tips and information.
    • The length of time to stay in a group depends on the individual. You will know when it is time to stop. When you feel that way, give the group a few more sessions to be sure.
    • You can find colorectal cancer support groups through the following:
    • For information about support groups, including the benefit in additional to emotional support, click here
    • For self help groups see: Self Help Groups.
    • If you are a young man or woman, other sources include:
  • Consider joining or starting a self help group.
    • A self help group is a support group that is led by members of the group rather than a professional.
    • Keep in mind that the information you see or hear may not be accurate. Verify all information before acting on it.
  • Consider volunteering with a group of volunteers.
    • For instance, Colon Cancer Alliance, Tel.: 877.422.2030.
  • Go on line to an online chat room.
    • If you join a chat room, keep in mind that information there may be wrong. Verify all information before acting on it.
  • Consider getting a pet
    • Studies indicate that pets are good for your emotional health. As noted in our medical care section, pets may possibly even be good for your physical health.
    • The pet doesn't have to be a dog or cat. Look for a pet that fits your lifestyle and budget. Our article, Pets 101, not only tells you how not to get sick from your pet, it also includes such practical information as how to travel with a pet and whether to get pet insurance.
  • Do something life affirming
    • People who have lived through colorectal cancer suggest doing something life affirming such as planting a tree, or perennials in the spring, or bulbs in the fall.
  • Start a project that will take a long time to complete.
    • Some men and women even go back to school. (You cannot be discriminated against because of your health history. To learn more, see: Americans With Disabilities offsite link provides college scholarships to current and former cancer patients.)
  • Turning to religion or spirituality can help.
    • Clergy men and women are good listeners, and are often trained at helping with emotional issues. As a general matter, you do not need to be a practitioner or a member of a religion to speak with a clergy person of that faith.
    • There are many paths to spirituality. The right path is the one that works for you - whether it's through religion, new age thinking or your individual belief. 
  • Medication or Professional Help
    • If your emotions make living difficult or interfere with your daily routine, let your doctor know. Perhaps he or she can prescribe a medication that will help. Professional therapeutic help is also available.
  • Spirituality.  

How To Cope With Anxiety Before Medical Appointments

  •  Most people report being anxious in the days and hours before medical appointments and exams, especially those that are made as a result of a call about symptoms.
  • If you call with a question about a symptom, and the office takes the symptom seriously, keep in mind that the office is just playing it safe.
  • To help cope, consider techniques about coping with stress and anxiety.
  • It may help if you take a friend with you to appointments.  (A friend also helps raise questions during appointments and recall what is said afterward). At the least, let friends know you are anxious before appointments and would appreciate their checking in on you. For information, see Patient Advocates.
    • NOTE: Prior to medical appointments, you can help make effective use the time if you:
    • Keep track of your symptoms. See Survivorship A to Z's Symptoms Diary to help. (With the click of a button, an easy-to-read graph is created that you can take with you to the doctor.)
    • If tests are likely to be ordered during the appointment, find out if you can schedule them ahead of time. This way you can discuss the results when you are with the doctor instead of over the telephone. This technique also avoids an additional stressful waiting period.

When To Seek Professional Help

  • Talk with a professional mental health therapist who has experience working with people after cancer treatment if any of the following happen: 
    • You feel like you're getting stuck emotionally.
    • You have trouble sleeping.
    • You are frequently teary or upset for no reason.
    • Your weight continues to fluctuate.
    • You lost interest in your usual activities and friends.
    • You fixate on your cancer experience.
    • You think you need it.
  • Check your insurance to see if mental health is covered. If it is, what are the limitations and restrictions?

NOTE: Especially during the first year after treatment, it is not unusual for anxiety and fear of recurrence to surface before doctor appointments and while waiting for test results. This type of anxiety may continue for a very long time. .

For more information, see:

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