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What is common among cancer survivors?

Cancer is a devastating disease that impacts millions of people worldwide each year. While the diagnosis can feel incredibly isolating, the truth is that cancer survivors are far from alone in their experience. There are actually many common threads that unite those who have faced cancer, from the emotional toll to the physical side effects. Understanding what is frequently shared among cancer survivors can provide comfort, hope and a sense of community.

Going Through the Stages of Grief

Receiving a cancer diagnosis triggers intense emotions ranging from shock and denial to anger, bargaining and depression before reaching acceptance. This process mirrors the well-known five stages of grief that also apply to other major losses, like the death of a loved one. Cancer disrupts lives in profound ways, so working through grief over these changes is a shared part of the survivorship experience.

Initial feelings of disbelief and denial are common as a self-protective reaction to overwhelming news. Bargaining thoughts like “If I just change my diet, it will go away” frequently emerge as well. Anger might arise towards healthcare providers, loved ones or even the cancer itself. Periods of intense sadness and depression are also very common as the losses cancer brings set in. However, the end goal is reaching acceptance of the diagnosis in order to move forward with treatment and life.

Knowing these stages are shared among survivors can help normalize difficult emotions when they arise. Oncologists and mental health professionals can further guide patients through processing grief in a healthy way.

Making Major Lifestyle Changes

A cancer diagnosis means making major changes in nearly every domain of life from work routines to self-care practices, exercise habits, diet and more. Treatment protocols demand significant lifestyle shifts as well.

For example, chemotherapy and radiation therapy often require weeks or months of frequent medical visits for treatments. This disrupts work and family life, requiring adjustments to schedules and responsibilities. Additionally, Questions Patients Should Ask About Cancer


– What type of cancer do I have?
– What stage is the cancer? Has it spread?
– What are my treatment options?
– What are the benefits and risks of each treatment?
– Which treatment do you recommend and why?
– Are there any clinical trials I should consider?
– How will treatment impact my daily life?
– What side effects should I expect, and how can they be managed?
– Will I need rehabilitation services after treatment?
– How often will I need follow-up appointments and tests?
– Are there any lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, etc) that could support my treatment?

Emotional & Psychosocial Support for Cancer Patients

– How can I cope with this diagnosis emotionally? What resources are available?
– Will cancer treatment affect my mood, energy levels or cognition?
– Should I see a mental health professional like a counselor or psychiatrist?
– Is there a cancer support group I can join?
– How do I tell my family and loved ones about my diagnosis?
– Who can I lean on for emotional support during treatment?
– Are there financial assistance resources if treatment costs pose a burden?
– How can I maintain my quality of life and sense of self during treatment?

these treatments can cause fatigue, nausea and other difficult side effects requiring conscientious self-care. Cancer patients often adopt specialized diets as well, giving up inflammatory foods, sugar, alcohol and more.

Surgeries and hospitalizations also demand major adjustments. Reconstructive surgery, for example, involves a long recovery requiring physical therapy, wound care and assistance with daily tasks as people adjust. Some cancer patients even embrace complementary wellness approaches like meditation, yoga, acupuncture and massage as part of holistic healing.

While challenging, recognizing that cancer universally requires significant lifestyle changes can help patients anticipating them plan effective coping strategies.

Seeking Community Support

Another shared need among cancer survivors is community support during the healing process. Cancer often feels lonely, but connecting with others facing it provides solidarity and comfort. There are many ways those with cancer seek community:

  • Support groups – In-person and online groups allow sharing personal experiences and advice.
  • Individual counseling – Mental health therapy helps process emotions.
  • Cancer centers – Facilities offer activities like art therapy, yoga and more alongside treatment.
  • Nonprofits – Organizations provide everything from medical equipment and transport to camps for kids with cancer.
  • Fundraising events – Events like races, walks and galas raise money while uniting survivors.
  • Online forums – Anonymously communicating with others in a similar position provides perspective.
  • National advocacy – Advocating for policy change gives purpose and connection.

Accessing a community, whether through intimate support groups or large-scale events, provides solidarity. It reminds those struggling with cancer that they do not have to face it alone. The diagnosis becomes less scary when others who have been through treatment and survivorship can offer empathy, wisdom and living proof there are brighter days ahead.

Experiencing Changes in Personal Identity

Another widely shared experience among cancer survivors is an identity shift. Cancer disrupts so many aspects of life that one’s internal concept of self is often shaken and recast in the process. There are various personal identity changes that frequently arise:

  • Loss of sense of health – Feeling vulnerable and mortal after previously feeling healthy.
  • Career uncertainties – Work plans derailed by treatment and recovery needs.
  • Appearance changes – Hair loss, scars and other physical changes alter self-image.
  • Role changes – Responsibilities as caregiver or provider interrupted by limitations.
  • Shifts in priorities and outlook – Reevaluating life purpose and goals after a near-death experience.

While emotionally difficult, identity changes are also opportunities for growth. Finding meaning in the cancer experience and emerging with a new perspective on life is common. Volunteering, spending more time with loved ones and pursuing passion projects can become newfound priorities after cancer. Embracing these shifts leads to post-traumatic growth for many survivors.

Facing Fears of Cancer Recurrence

Fearing that cancer will return even after treatment is another near universal emotion among survivors. Cancer follow-up care aims to detect and treat recurrences early through regular scans and bloodwork. While critical, this process means survivors perpetually wonder if every new ache or pain is metastatic disease. Studies estimate 62-89% of cancer survivors report fearing recurrence at some point after active treatment.

This fear stems from the realization that cancer is unpredictable. Hearing stories of late recurrences years after survivors believe they have “beaten” cancer heightens anxieties. Remission provides hope, but not the same definitiveness as being cured. These recurrences fears impact quality of life for many.

Knowing these fears are shared among survivors can help normalize them when they arise. Openly discussing worries with oncologists and therapists allows developing healthy coping skills. Actively appreciating each cancer-free scan and day helps many as well. While fearing recurrence is understandable given the trauma of a diagnosis, focusing forward on the present ultimately improves survivor well-being.

Dealing with Physical Side Effects & Late Effects

Cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation and surgery often cause difficult physical side effects both during and after completion:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Immune suppression
  • Hair and weight loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Skin and nail changes
  • Chemobrain – cognitive difficulties
  • Peripheral neuropathy – numbness in extremities
  • Lymphedema – swelling in limbs

Additionally, some side effects emerge months or years later and persist long-term. These “late effects” like heart damage from chemotherapy or secondary cancers from radiation also impact survivors well beyond active treatment. Living with physical effects of cancer treatment is a reality for many survivors.

Shared physical side effects unite cancer survivors through a sense of empathy. Connecting over strategies for managing treatment consequences provides solidarity. Pain from surgery or fatigue from chemotherapy becomes more bearable when those around you understand firsthand. Discussing how side effects impact daily life raises awareness of just how much survivors endure.

Facing Financial Toxicity of Cancer Care

The exorbitant costs of cancer also unfortunately unite many survivors through “financial toxicity.” Cancer treatment costs exceed $150 billion annually in the United States alone. Even with health insurance, significant out-of-pocket medical bills, lost wages from time off work and other expenses quickly add up.

A 2020 study found nearly 40% of cancer survivors report being in debt due to their treatment. The same percentage said financial distress impacted their quality of life. Difficult decisions about whether to pay for treatment or other important needs plague many households touched by cancer.

Working to overcome cancer’s financial toxicity through fundraising and advocacy provides survivors with a sense of community. Organizations like the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition connect patients with financial aid resources. Policy changes like expanded insurance coverage for cancer care also benefit the wider survivor community.


A cancer diagnosis turns lives upside down in countless ways. While the disease often feels lonely and isolating, certain experiences and emotions are actually common threads among survivors. Understanding this shared terrain all who face cancer must navigate provides solidarity and hope.

Grappling with grief, life changes, identity shifts, recurrence fears, side effects and financial strain ultimately unite those touched by cancer. Community support, empathy and openness about these shared experiences help the prominence of cancer become more survivable – for every single warrior.