Standing in a flowery meadow, representing a positive start into a cance free life

How Cancer Survivorship Changes Your Life

“You are in remission.”

Those are the four words every cancer patient longs to hear.

From the very day you’re diagnosed, these words become your North Star. Everything you do for weeks, months, or even years –as long as you’re battling cancer– revolves around cancer survivorship.

You change the way you eat, exercise, and sleep to give your body its best fighting chance…

You stop working or reduce work to the minimum to lower your stress levels…

You spend your time researching success stories with your type of cancer, hoping to find the key to recovering…

(At least, these are the things I hope every cancer patient is doing!)

Recovery can be a long and winding road and some days are easier than others, but one specific goal becomes the most important thing in your life: to survive.

So naturally, when your oncologist tells you that you’re cancer-free, you’re flooded with an incomparable sense of relief.

You call your family and friends to tell them you’re in remission – all you want to do is celebrate! And really, this is a time for celebration.

You have survived.

You get a second chance in life.

You start thinking of all the things you’ll be able to do that you couldn’t do for such a long time, and you have a new appreciation for life that makes everything even more special and exciting than before.

If you’re a cancer survivor, you know exactly what I’m talking about…

But you also know what happens when that dwindles. Because it does dwindle.

The explosion of joy you felt when you heard the news is replaced with a BIG question: what if it comes back?

And when that anxiety kicks in, it opens the floodgates for all the negative emotions that come from cancer survivorship.

The Emotional Challenges of Cancer Survivorship

When being in remission is your only goal for such a long time, the emotional impact of cancer survivorship can catch you off guard.

Suddenly, there are so many things on your mind…

  • Constantly fearing a recurrence, not knowing exactly what caused the cancer and being afraid that it may come back
  • A lower self-esteem because your body has changed and you don’t like what you see in the mirror (scars, weight changes, a missing breast, hair loss…)
  • Anxiety of not knowing the full extent of how cancer impacted your work, your relationships, and other aspects of your life
  • Guilt over having survived when others didn’t – especially if those others were people you loved
  • Anger and frustration over a body that can’t do the same things it could before

There can also be financial stress, libido issues, cognitive changes, a disrupted sleep pattern, depression, and even PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

It’s a lot to face.

And unless you have the right support by your side (someone who has been through the same) it’s easy to fall down the slippery slope of anxiety, fear, and isolation.

I’m writing this blog today to help those of you who are struggling with any of these things, because I went through them too.

And believe it or not, when I asked my oncologist what I could do to make sure the cancer never came back, he answered:

“Nothing. Just live as before.”

I knew right then and there that that was NOT the path to go. I had a gut feeling that if I could understand why I had developed cancer, I could make changes in my life to avoid a recurrence.

Well, I’m glad I listened to that gut feeling.

Because that took me on a path that changed my life forever (and it’s also the reason why I created a specific coaching system for cancer survivors, but that’s a story for another day.)

There are a lot of things you can do, not just to avoid recurrence but to really live a richer, more fulfilling life than you ever did before.

Nurturing health after cancer is like nurturing a young plant

How to Handle Anger and Frustration

I still remember the first time I went to the beach after getting a mastectomy…

I was consumed by envy watching other women in a bikini, walking around with their 2 breasts intact. That envy made me really angry – almost irrationally angry.

The truth is, I was carrying a lot of anger and frustration that had nothing to do with those women and everything to do with me.

And yes, I was mourning the loss of my breast, but really I was mourning the loss of a lot more.

The “new me” I saw in the mirror was nothing like the old me, vibrant and full of life. I felt weaker, older, and uglier, and my missing breast was a daily reminder that I was now a different person.

My body couldn’t do the same things it used to, and that was so incredibly frustrating.

At the time, I didn’t see this as the blessing it was…

I was still angry at nurses and doctors for the way they had treated me, and I was especially angry at life for being so unfair.

And it wasn’t until I learned to release my negative emotions that I realized just how much I had bottled up my entire life (way before cancer).

If you struggle with anger and frustration, I want you to know that the first step to healing is recognizing these emotions.

You don’t need to admit them to others, but for your own sake, you need to admit them to yourself.

Of course it’s frustrating to get tired after going for a walk that used to be a part of your daily routine…

Or to try and get back to your favorite sport, only to realize you’ve lost a lot of strength and stamina, and you have no idea how long it will take to get them back…

Or to talk to others about what you went through hoping they will understand, and realizing by their beliefs that they have no idea what cancer means.

That’s why it’s so important to find a supportive community where you can express your anger and frustration without judgment and feel seen.

It’s also why learning to release your emotions is the key to turning the toughest challenge you’ve faced into your biggest life lesson.

Here’s what I’d suggest if you feel stuck in anger and frustration:

Step 1: Recognize

This is the most difficult step. Too often, we prefer to ignore the emotions that hurt us rather than deal with them.

To help you recognize emotions, start with a “junk journal” (small enough to fit in any purse and always available) in which you write down all the emotions you’re feeling as they come up.

Step 2: Release

Once you’re aware of your emotions, you can take action and decide to release them to feel better.

There are many ways you can do this:

  1. Writing them in your junk journal.
  2. Going for a walk in a solitary place, walking slowly and reconnecting with the emotion you want to release, then stomping the ground or, if you’re in nature, taking a stick and hitting the ground, tree stumps, etc. Sometimes, the experience of physically letting go can improve our ability to release our emotions effectively.
  3. At home, taking a towel and hitting the bathtub or sink with it repeatedly.
  4. Punching a bag or cushion.
  5. Using alternative therapies like hypnotherapy, EFT, kinesiology, theta healing, and others that help you release emotions that have been buried in your subconscious for years.

Step 3: Repeat

Repeat alternating methods until you have lifted all the veils and allowed your emotions to express themselves.

An emotion carries a message that must be heard and released once it has done its work. E motion = Energy in motion.

Which leads me to talk about…

How to Cope With Anxiety and Depression as a Cancer Survivor

Cancer puts you in a really vulnerable position that only cancer survivors understand.

Maybe you’ve lost your job or were forced to take time off, and you don’t know how that will impact your career (or even worse – your financial situation)…

Maybe you’re experiencing “chemo brain” or dealing with physical changes that are destroying your self-esteem and confidence…

Maybe your relationships changed because they were put in an extreme situation when you were going through cancer…

Maybe you’ve lost your appetite, your ability to sleep through the night, your libido, or your drive and ambition…

And your vision for the future may be dark because you don’t know how you’ll move past this.

The first thing you must know is that anxiety and depression after cancer are very common.

In fact, around 46% of cancer survivors suffer from anxiety and 20% from depression, according to a 2023 study.

The good news is that those feelings won’t last forever. With the right support (coaches, therapists, and support groups) you’ll be able to get through this.

Cance Schopfer, coaching cancer patients, survivors and their supporters
Catherine Schopfer, Online Cancer Coach

How to find the right support

Make sure that whoever you talk to has either survived cancer themselves or has helped others in your situation.

There are a lot of very experienced professionals who understand what you’re going through and can help you.

You can also try talking to other cancer survivors and asking them for referrals!

Join my free support group on Facebook.

Understanding and dealing with anxiety

It’s important to mention that any feeling of anxiety is tied to the future. When we’re anxious, we’re essentially worried about a future outcome – even if that future is near.

Which means that the most powerful tool to deal with daily anxiety is to start practicing techniques that help you be more present.

Meditation, breathwork, exercising, and mindfulness practices are excellent ways to create pauses in your daily life where you focus on the “now”.

But keep in mind that what works for some doesn’t work for others. Most people love meditation, but I find hiking helps me more. Keep trying different approaches until you find something that works for you.

A cancer survivor hiking

How to Deal With Fear of Recurrence

I still feel a degree of fear when I go to my regular checkups – but it goes away as soon as I leave the doctor’s office.

Fear of recurrence is normal (who wouldn’t fear getting cancer?!) – especially now that you know how much cancer impacts your life. But there are ways to make sure it’s only present during your checkups, and that it gets smaller and smaller with each passing year.

The best way to deal with the fear of recurrence is to work on avoiding it altogether.

Of course, there are no guarantees, but if you’re willing to make big lifestyle changes, you’ll feel empowered over your health and your life – and that’s the best antidote for this fear.

Things like:

  • Reducing stress
  • Working on fostering a positive, resilient mindset
  • Finding gratitude for your life and exercising that gratitude every day
  • Releasing your negative emotions
  • Creating healthy self-care routines
  • Curating your environment to support your new life
  • Adapting your nutrition (working with a professional)

Can help you take control over your health like never before.

But you know what has a huge impact on a cancer survivor’s life and is often overlooked?

Finding and pursuing your passions.

When you go on a path of discovering who you really are, what matters to you in life, and how you can pursue it, your life gains direction – something that is often missing when we go through cancer.

You go from living on autopilot to finding your life’s purpose…

And your fear of recurrence goes away.

Because you know that no matter what, you are living the life you were always meant to live.

Catherine Schopfer, Online Cancer Coach in nature

Building a Better Life After Cancer

What’s next for you?

As a cancer survivor, it’s easy to feel stuck. But the reality is that cancer makes you extremely resilient if you’re able to learn the lessons that it has to teach you.

And that’s your reward for overcoming something so difficult on so many levels.

When I overcame cancer, I went into deep research to understand why cancer happens and what I could do to prevent a recurrence.

That’s how I ended up becoming a cancer coach (I was already a life coach before) because I realized there’s so much that cancer patients don’t know that could help them avoid recurrence or even prevent cancer in the first place.

I became an advocate for prevention and now coach women all over the world – including those who want to help others just like I do.

That’s also how Sylvie, one of my clients, bounced back from cancer after two years of not feeling like herself…

And it’s the reason I know you can turn your cancer story into the beginning of an incredible life that will inspire others.

As a coach, I’d like you to take a moment to feel proud of yourself. No matter how much help you got (or didn’t), you’re here and you have an opportunity that not many people have:

A second chance at life, now knowing how precious and fleeting it is.

Now it’s time to build a life better than the one you had before. Start by taking a look at all the things that are holding you back from that life.

Then, assess what you need to change and find communities where you feel comfortable to ask questions and share your emotions. Look for support from professionals who can help you find your passions and build the right habits to support them.

(Reach out to me if you want to have a chat.)

The life you’ve always dreamed of is not just possible – it’s closer now that you’ve faced cancer and survived.