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  • Writer's pictureBrad Thiessen

8 Challenges Most Cancer Survivors Face

Updated: May 20

Life after cancer treatment was supposed to be a fresh start, So what happened?

Photo by Finhev at

Let’s just get it out there: being a cancer survivor sucks. (Unless it doesn’t for you, in which case feel free to skip this post.)


I remember back when my third cancer treatment was finally ending, I had my son video me taking that last chemo pill, because it was a moment of triumph.


From there, it was time to get back into "real" life again.

Only it didn't work out that way. I thought it would be a fresh start, but I so often just felt stuck and scared and sad and just... bogged down

What I found out is, I’m not the only one. Not by a long shot. I've heard and read comments from many cancer survivors in person and online, and your questions usually start with "Am I the only one who..."

So if my experience sounds familiar, it doesn't mean you’re weak. Yes, you're lucky to be alive, but that doesn't mean there's energy and joy purpose when you wake up in the morning. It doesn't mean you don't have scars on your body and on your soul and on your mind.

If you're having trouble merging back onto the freeway of "normal" life, you’re not the only one.

There is a long list of challenges you can face once cancer treatment is done. Each of us might have a handful of them. More likely you’ve faced all of them to some degree at one time or another.

And when they hit you, you can find yourself stuck on your living room couch staring out the window.


So let’s just get them out there, shall we?


1. Lack  of purpose and motivation

  • Being so close to death was supposed to make you appreciate life, right? Only instead of being more hungry to live each day as if it was your last, you have to drag yourself to meet up with friends or do the things that used to bring you joy.

2. Loneliness

  • During treatment you probably had a team of professionals around you, and you may have had friends, family and co-workers paying attention to you. Once treatment is over, you can find yourself alone to wrestle with all the problems of recovery and adjustment.

3. Loss of our identity

  • Maybe you’ve become the parent who loses their patience or can no longer lift their child. Or the teacher who can’t last a full school day. Or the runner who just can’t get their energy back. The musician whose hands don’t work like they used to. The quilter who can’t get their fingers – or their mind – to handle the tasks anymore. Cancer can take away those things that used to be the most satisfying and made us who we were.

4. Health complications

  • Let’s face it, the chemo, radiation and surgery can do more damage than the cancer itself. Some of the lost function can be rebuilt but some may never go away. It’s not just physical – it’s the emotional pain and weariness that comes with it. Chemo brain, anyone?

5. Fear of death and recurrence

  • Fear of death and recurrence during and after cancer treatment are real and inescapable. They’re made all the sharper every time you go in for a follow-up visit or get a hint from your radiologist that the cancer may be returning (“and let’s have you come back in 3 months to see if it's still there.”). Read my <blog post> about it.

6. Strong memories of the treatment experience

  • The memory of treatment can pop up at random times, can’t it? Or not so random, like when you go for a checkup of just drive past the hospital or cancer clinic on the way to the grocery store.


Then there are the “helpful” things that actually don’t help, like

7. Tough love

  • Sometimes, the people closest to us, or work colleagues, or even random people we meet will say things like “Why can’t you just get over it and move on?” We may even ask ourselves the same question.


8. False reassurance

  • A lot of people get uncomfortable with the troubling pieces of cancer, like possible recurrence and death. So they’ll say things like “Don’t worry, you’ll make it through” or “Everything happens for a reason” or my personal favorite, “You can’t experience heaven without going through hell first.” (Who do they think they are, exactly?)

Does all this ring true for you? Do you have any thoughts to share? Any items you’d add to the list?

19 views2 comments


Apr 25

For my kind of cancer, there is a well-respected and effective post treatment therapy regime which is essentially suppressing the estrogen in your body for 5 to 10 years. My cancer eats estrogen, so if there is one cell that miraculously escaped all of the treatments I had, the idea is we're going to starve it out. The effects of this is that you develop arthritis, aching joints, bone loss, hot flashes, and many other symptoms that are associated with old age. I'm in my mid-50s but I've been dropped into the deep end of the old age pool and I'm very unhappy about it. I wasn't supposed to be experiencing symptoms that are usually experienced in people's '70s and…

Apr 26
Replying to

Karin, thanks for sharing. A few questions. Reply if you're comfortable, or don't. It sounds like your treatment has been going on for a while. How have you learned to cope with it? Where do you find beams of light that will poke through the cracks in the wall? Also, when it get bad, do you find you have to release the frustration? How do you do it?


The Curious Survivor

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