"Even though the treatment worked and I'm cancer-free, I worry a lot about getting sick again."—Linda, 63
"You expect that after getting through chemotherapy, you can put it behind you and move on. I just wanted things to go back to normal. Some things did go back to how they were. But it's hard, because I feel like something in me is different, and I'm not sure how to deal with it."—Jack, 71
Oropharyngeal cancer is uncommon and typically involves patients in the fifth through seventh decades of life; men are afflicted three to five times more often than women.[1,2,3]
Similar to other cancers of the head and neck, tobacco and alcohol abuse represent the most significant risk factors for the development of oropharyngeal cancer.[3,4] (Refer to the PDQ summaries on Hypopharyngeal Cancer Treatment and Lip and Oral Cavity Cancer Treatment for more information.) Other risk factors may include:
"Cancer changed everything. My body is different and I have scars from surgery, and I'm still trying to get used to that. I'm eating healthier and really taking care of myself now. I also started focusing more on the things that really matter to me. I have a new sense of purpose."—Rosa, 54
Making sense of it all
Surviving cancer is something to celebrate. But many people find the time after treatment is different than what they expected. It may be difficult to make sense of how cancer has affected and changed you.
Some of the changes may be good. You may have a fresh outlook on life and feel that you've been given a second chance.
Other changes may be hard to deal with. You may have pain or scars from treatment. Some of your relationships may have changed. And even though you're well, you may still feel distress over everything you went through. Or you may worry about the cancer coming back.
This is a time of adjustment, taking care of yourself, and finding your new "normal." This stage is part of your recovery, and it may take more time than you expect.
Your new normal
Cancer changes families. It can create closer bonds, but it also can bring out difficult emotions.
Here are some things you can do to help your family adjust:
Let them know what you can and can't handle. Even though your treatment is over, you may not have enough energy to do all the things you used to do. Let your family know that you still need their help.
Help them understand that it takes time. Talk about how cancer has changed your family and how some things may not go back to how they were before cancer.
Be honest with your kids. Speak openly about your cancer and recovery, and let them ask questions.