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As a cancer survivor you probably have a range of feelings about your cancer and its treatment - from relief that your treatment has ended to worry that your cancer may return. During treatment, most people focus on getting through each day. But after treatment ends, a host of feelings can surface as you make sense of your experience and learn what it means to be a childhood cancer survivor.
Being a survivor of childhood cancer usually entails ongoing testing for recurrent cancer, watching out for the late effects of cancer and its treatment, and re-entering school or the workforce. Most survivors are able to cope with these and other stresses, but some may develop depression and anxiety with symptoms of posttraumatic stress.
The type of cancer you had and its treatment can affect your risk. People who had cancer of the brain or spine, cancer treatment to the brain or spine (such as radiation to the head and chemotherapy into spinal fluid), or bone marrow or stem cell transplants have higher risk for emotional distress.
The following factors also raise risk:
Talk to your doctor if you have emotional distress that lasts two or more weeks or that keeps you from doing key tasks at home, school, or work. A referral to a mental health professional may be in order, but your doctor most likely will give you a thorough check-up first. That's because these symptoms can also be caused by physical health problems.
Here are some specific signs that you might you need help from a mental health professional:
If you are depressed or anxious, talking with others about your feelings is a first step in gaining control over them. Some survivors find support by joining support groups, going to activities at their place of worship, or calling on their sense of spirituality.
Clinical treatments for depression and anxiety help, too. Options include one-on-one or group talk therapy, medication, or both. Your doctor can help you access the support or treatment that you need.
There's also help online. Many cancer groups have created websites that include information and tools to help childhood cancer survivors after treatment ends. Here are just a few:
Tell your doctor or childhood cancer specialist about any emotional distress that you feel. Your doctor can help you find the resources that you need to cope with the stresses of being a survivor.