From follow-up care to lifestyle changes & getting back into fitness, we outline some of the things you may be considering as you recover from cancer

As you reach the end of your cancer treatment, for some people this means that you’re not likely to need any more cancer treatment and can begin to recover, including the emotional and practical challenges this raises. 

For other people, it can be about managing cancer over a long period of time. Macmillan can provide more information about this type of cancer management for those experiencing it. 

Recovery is a gradual process which doesn’t happen overnight. You may have some days that feel better than others, and you’ll need to rebuild physical strength as well as processing the emotional impact of your experience. Try not to expect too much of yourself too quickly.

Here, we talk you through some of the main things you might be thinking about as part of your recovery.

Follow-up care 

When your main treatment ends, you’ll usually continue to see your cancer team for regular check-ups, known as follow-up care. 

In the first year after your treatment, these appointments are usually every few months and tend to be with your cancer team, at the hospital.

The frequency of your appointments also depends on:

• The type and stage of cancer you had

• The treatment you’ve had

• Your needs and wishes

• The arrangements at the hospital you go to

It’s normal to have fewer check-ups after your first year, and these may be over the phone with a specialist nurse, rather than at the hospital. Some follow-up care may also be with your GP.  

Your cancer care team will discuss your follow-up care with you, and together you can decide what’s best for you.

What to expect from a follow-up care appointment 

The aim of your follow-up care appointment is to make sure everything is going well for you and gives you the chance to talk about any concerns you might have.

Your appointment may include:

• A physical examination

• Simple tests, for instance taking a blood sample

• Questions about your recovery, and any side effects or symptoms you have

• Referrals on to other services, like counselling for emotional support or physiotherapy for help with exercise

It’s normal to feel apprehensive before your appointment, but it’s an important part of your ongoing care, and you might feel reassured afterwards.  

You can find out more about follow-up care from Macmillan

Late effects

One of the things that you may experience during your recovery are late effects. These are side effects that don’t go away when your treatment finishes, or that don’t occur until months or years after your treatment finishes. 

Your cancer team can advise you about the risk of late effects with your particular treatment, including any signs or symptoms to look out for. Talking to your cancer team about late effects can help to put your mind at ease about what to expect.

You can find more information about late effects from Macmillan.

Making lifestyle changes

As part of your recovery from cancer, there might be some lifestyle changes you want to make to help improve your wellbeing and long-term health.

If you’d like support with making these changes, you can:

• Talk to your cancer team or a Macmillan nurse

• Speak to your GP

• Speak to your local Boots Macmillan Information Pharmacist

• Find out if there are any health and wellbeing clinics or events in your area

Stop smoking

If you smoke, quitting is one of the best lifestyle changes you can make. It can reduce the side effects of some treatments, reduce some late effects, and can also help you to heal faster after surgery.

Giving up smoking can be challenging, but using a stop smoking treatment (for instance nicotine replacement products) with help from an NHS support service or your GP gives you the best chance of success. The NHS can help you find your nearest support service.

Get back into exercise

Whilst going through treatment, it’s common to be less active than normal whilst you deal with both your symptoms and any side effects from treatment.

As you begin to recover, easing yourself back into exercise can be beneficial, because it helps you to:

• Look after your bones, and reduce the risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis)

• Maintain a healthy weight

• Improve your mood, and reduce stress and anxiety

• Reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes

• Reduce your risk of certain cancers coming back, or of getting another cancer

It can help to start with a small amount of gentle activity, and gradually build up to exercising for longer periods or more strenuously.

It’s a good idea to speak to your cancer team before you start becoming more active, to make sure you’re choosing an activity type that’s right for you. They can also provide more support to help you get back into exercise, such as referring you to a physiotherapist for treatment or advice.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet

Eating healthily can help your recovery and boost your energy levels. If you’re experiencing problems with eating as a result of your treatment, speak to your cancer team.

For most people, a balanced diet should include:

• Plenty of fruit and vegetables

• Plenty of starchy foods, like rice or potatoes, with a focus on wholegrains instead of refined grains

• Some protein-rich foods like meat, fish, eggs, nuts and pulses (like beans and lentils)

• Some milk and dairy foods

It can also help to ensure that you only consume a small amount of red or processed meat, and foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

Maintain a healthy weight

During your treatment, your weight may have changed. Aiming to return to a weight that’s healthy for you can help with your recovery. If you’re not sure what counts as a healthy weight for you, speak to your cancer team or your GP, who can give you guidance.

If you’ve gained weight, which can be as a result of chemotherapy or hormonal therapies, following the guidance for healthy eating and getting active may help.

If you’ve lost weight, or are still having difficulties eating, ask your cancer team for advice. This might include different ways to add calories to food, or nutritional drinks or powders that can help increase your weight.

Drink alcohol sensibly  

Consuming alcohol has been linked with an increased risk of some cancers, as well as leading to weight gain.

The NHS guidelines suggest that both women and men should:

• Not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol in a week

• Spread the alcohol units they drink in a week over 3 or more days

• Try to have several alcohol-free days per week

Reduce stress

Reducing stress and anxiety can be helpful. You might want to try:

• Talking with friends, family or health professionals about how you’re feeling

• Doing things you enjoy, or getting back to hobbies you did before treatment

• Doing regular physical activity

• Activities such as meditation or yoga

Emotional recovery  

Your emotional recovery is a big part of your overall recovery. After your treatment finishes, you might still have lots of different and complex feelings. This is normal, and often gets easier to manage with time.

If you’re finding it hard to cope, there are ways of seeking support. Options include:

• Support groups or online support, which can help you to share your experience with people who have been in similar situations

•  The Macmillan Buddies service who can provide phone calls and home visits

• Your GP or nurse, who may also refer you to a psychologist or counsellor

• Your local Boots Macmillan Information Pharmacist, who can provide information and support

• Dedicated organisations like Mind, the mental health charity 

It can also help to talk to someone you know well, like a family member or friend. 

Worries about cancer coming back

During your recovery, you might experience some anxiety about cancer coming back. This is a normal concern, and many people struggle to cope with feelings of uncertainty.

It can help to know which symptoms to look out for, but it’s also important to remember that you can have symptoms because of other things, for instance late effects of treatment, not just cancer. Your GP or cancer team can help with this.

If you do experience any new symptoms, tell your cancer team, or speak to your GP, who can help to decide the appropriate course of action.

Some things that you can do to help manage your worry and uncertainty include:

• Talking about your feelings and seeking support

• Finding ways of managing anxiety and stress

• Doing activities you used to enjoy before treatment or starting new ones

• Going back to work

• Getting involved in your recovery and focusing on your well-being

Remember, your recovery is a journey that will take time, but support is always available from your cancer team, your GP and Macmillan, as well as your local Boots Pharmacy team, including Boots Macmillan Information Pharmacists.