Life after cancer: Living the new normal Source: Hunter New England Health Service NSW
Looking after your mental health at home. Source: Hunter New England Health Service NSW

Emotional wellbeing

Not all side effects of head and neck cancer treatment are physical. You may also have a number of different emotions (feelings) during and after your treatment.

Having head and neck cancer may make you feel:

  • angry 

  • stressed, worried or depressed 

  • afraid that your cancer could come back 

  • sad about changes to the way you look.

Your family, friends and caregivers may have some of these feelings too, often not at the same time as you. All of these feelings are normal. Remember, there is no right way to feel about living with cancer.

Being angry

Anger is a common response to living with head and neck cancer. You may feel angry that this has happened to you and your family. You may also feel angry with other people for being well. Side effects of cancer treatment, such as feeling tired and having trouble sleeping, can add to feelings of frustration and anger.

You can manage you anger by:

  • finding an activity to help relax you, such as exercise or meditation

  • finding a safe way to express your anger, such as punching a pillow or yelling loudly in a private room

  • talking with your family, friends, or a health professional, such as a psychologist, who can help you manage feelings of anger.

Feeling stressed, worried or depressed

At times during your treatment and recovery, you may feel stressed, worried or sad. It’s normal to feel this way. Going to lots of appointments, feeling pain and being uncertain about the future can add to your stress, worry and sadness.

Sometimes, these feelings may last for a long time. You may lose interest in things you once enjoyed and you may stop doing daily activities. If this happens, you may be depressed.

Speak to your doctor or others looking after your cancer care if you are feeling stressed, worried or depressed. It is important to get the help that you may need. Your healthcare team may have suggestions about support options and people you can talk with.

Fear of cancer coming back

Feeling frightened about the cancer coming back (known as fear of recurrence) is very common after treatment for any cancer. Living with a fear of recurrence is not easy. But it can be helpful to know that this fear is a common part of survivorship.

You can manage your fear of recurrence by:

  • being well informed about the risk of your cancer coming back

  • going to all of your follow-up appointments

  • reducing your stress through exercise or other hobbies

  • talking with other people about your fears.

As time goes on, you may become less worried. If you feel you are becoming more worried or these worries are interfering with being able to do the things you want, speak with your doctor about where you can receive support.

Coping with changes to how you look

Treatment for head and neck cancer can change your face or neck and affect how you look. You may feel uncomfortable, sad or embarrassed about these changes.

It’s important to give yourself time to get used to your new look. Adjusting and accepting the new you is part of your recovery. Sometimes it is useful to talk with a psychologist who can help with adjusting to these changes.

Where can I find support?

Looking after your emotional wellbeing is just as important as your physical health and you do not have to deal with head and neck cancer alone. There are a number of support services available to help you.

Your doctor may recommend that you see a psychologist. Psychologists are experts in feelings and emotions. Your psychologist will be able to talk with you about how you are feeling, and help you with strategies to manage the things troubling you in daily life.
You might find it helpful to speak with people who have been in a similar situation to you. Face-to-face and online support groups are available to help you connect with people who have been through the same thing.

Cancer Council provides an information and support line to Australians affected by cancer. You can call 13 11 20 to speak with a specialist cancer professional about anything to do with cancer.