Thinking about the future
During treatment, you may not have spent much time thinking about anything else but getting through it. But once treatment ends, most people start to think about the future and what life after cancer will look like.
The new normal
Now that treatment has finished, you wonder if you’ll be able to pick up where you left off before your diagnosis. It’s time to get back to normal and feel good about the future. But what’s “normal” after cancer treatment?
Just as everyone’s cancer experience is unique, adjusting to life after treatment will be unique as well. You might have to figure out what will now be normal for you and your family.
For some people, depending on whether they feel their cancer experience has changed them, “normal” may mean going back to exactly how their life used to be. For them, the best thing about treatment ending will be getting back to their regular routine and ways of doing things.
For others, it’s not that simple. You may no longer feel sick, but you might not be feeling that great either.
Different physical or practical issues (such as new health routines or financial concerns) could now be a part of your life. Your values and priorities might have changed. Material things may be less important to you than spending time with family and friends or enjoying favourite pastimes.
You may find that you’re somewhere in-between. In some areas of life, your new “normal” is very different, and in other areas, things go back to exactly what they used to be.
It may help you to think about what you want to do when you feel well again. Some people find it fun to do something celebratory at the end of treatment, like take a vacation or learn something new, like ballroom dancing. Others prefer to get back to prior routines as quickly as possible.
Some people find it helpful to set goals, because this gives them something to think about and work toward. There are different types of goals people may look at, such as travelling, making a career change or going back to school, or developing a new, healthier lifestyle.
One way isn’t better than the other – the most important thing is figuring out what works for you.
If you haven’t already put your legal and financial affairs in order, it’s a good idea to do so.
Putting affairs in order makes sense for everyone, sick or well. All adults should have a will and other legal instructions that clearly describe what they want for their medical care and finances. Sorting out these details doesn’t mean that cancer treatment wasn’t successful, or that you expect to die soon. Ensuring that your affairs are in order can help you focus on living your life after cancer as fully as possible, and bring you and your loved ones peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be carried out.
There are several types of advance directives (legal instructions that describe what a person wants for their medical care, finances and estate) that you may want to consider when planning for your future after cancer. For all adults, it’s best to make these decisions for yourself before you’re in a situation where you are unable to let your wishes be known.
Laws about advance directives differ from province to province. It’s best to talk to a lawyer or your healthcare team for more detailed information. Copies of any advance directive you make can be given to a lawyer, your healthcare team (to be put in your medical file) or your next of kin.
Wills and living wills
A will is a set of legal instructions on how you want your estate (money, property or other assets) handled when you die. It can also include who will look after your children (under age 18) after death or who should look after pets.
A living will is a set of instructions about your wishes for medical care. If you become unable to communicate or make decisions, caregivers and the healthcare team will know what your wishes are about medical care issues such use of breathing machines, tube feeding and continuing or not continuing treatment.
Power of attorney
You can choose someone to act as your power of attorney to make healthcare or financial decisions for you if you become unable to do so. A power of attorney should be someone you know well and trust. They will have legal authority to act for you on your behalf. Your wishes for financial, medical or healthcare decisions should always be discussed with your power of attorney.
A medical power of attorney (or proxy) has the authority to make medical or healthcare decisions for you. A financial power of attorney has the authority to make your financial decisions. The financial power of attorney can be different from the medical power of attorney or you may choose to have one person to have both responsibilities.
Like making your will or power of attorney decisions, making your wishes known for a funeral or memorial service can help guide your family. You may want to make financial arrangements for the funeral and cremation or burial. A funeral director can assist you with planning.
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.