Life after cancer is rarely the same as life before cancer. Going through the experience can change a person and finding your new normal is a normal part of being a survivor.
Both you and those close to you might have expectations for what life will be like after surviving cancer. It can be easy to feel like you should be celebrating and feeling happy, but the reality is that a lot of survivors struggle with mental health long after their cancer treatment ends. That's not to say of course that you can't be happy once you've beaten cancer, but it's also perfectly normal to not feel that way.
One in three people with breast cancer suffer from body image-related distress and one in four breast cancer survivors develop long-lasting depression and anxiety. Acknowledging that your mental health may not be perfect is part of recovery after cancer for a lot of people. Remember that if you need professional help managing your mental health you should contact your doctor. There are ways that you can manage your mental health without professional help as well if you prefer.
Expressive writing for better mental health
One of the ways to manage your mental health, especially after surviving cancer, is through journaling. In a writing therapy called My Changed Body, a research team from Macquarie University showed how writing therapy can improve the mental health of breast cancer survivors. They showed that self-compassion has a strong, inverse relationship with body image and hope has a strong, inverse relationship with anxiety and depression. In the study, breast cancer survivors participated in writing and journaling about their experiences. This involved addressing negative feelings around their bodies after cancer surgery and treatment, as well as writing as if a close friend was going through a similar situation. These writing exercises helped the survivors find self-compassion and hope, and even up to three months later, their average body image-related distress was reduced by 30%, their anxiety by 30%, and their depression by 24%. If you find yourself experiencing poor mental health after surviving breast cancer, as many survivors do, journaling and writing may help. Macquarie plans to conduct more research into this field to further help breast cancer survivors.
One of the hardest parts of returning to normal life is when those closest to you don't understand you, making you feel isolated and alone. It can be hard, but it can also be important, to be honest about how you're feeling. Some survivors look on their cancer positively, as a life-changing event for the better. Friends and family might not expect this outlook so it can be important to let them know how you feel.
You can also consider reaching out to other survivors too. Expressive writing and journaling for better mental health can be something you do with others. Participating in survivors' and fund-raising events such as the relay for life are good ways to feel connected to a community.