Surviving Cancer: 10 Ways to Start Over

by PJ Hamel Patient Expert

When you’ve been dealing with cancer, sometimes it helps to hit the reset button. Check out this advice for putting your life in order, and getting back on a positive track.

1. Go outside. Take a deep breath. Look up.

See that enormous sky? It hasn’t fallen. You’re still alive, the sun is shining, and life is full of endless possibilities.

2. Think about survival statistics in a positive light.

Your doctor has shared the statistics: you have a 16 percent chance of dying from cancer within the next 5 years. You also have an 84 percent chance of living: focus on that.

There’s no one who has 0 percent chance of surviving cancer; miracles do happen. Seeing the glass half-full is a total cliché, but oh-so-true when it comes to survival stats.

3. Consider a new hairstyle.

If your fuzzy “duck down” hair is just starting to grow back after chemo, it’s the perfect time to think about a new look. Boy-short? Curly? Layered and long?

You probably have quite a few months to consider various options before your hair is long enough to really need anything more than towel drying, but in the meantime – have fun looking!

4. Learn and live.

You’ve been through cancer treatment, and it’s taught you a valuable life lesson. That you never want to go through the cancer experience again? That there’s great free coffee in the radiation waiting room?

Nah. Cancer treatment has taught you how strong you are: which is very strong, strong enough to survive perhaps the most horrendous health experience you’ve ever lived through. Pat yourself on the back; you made it!

5. Don’t keep licking your wounds.

Auld lang syne notwithstanding, it’s time to stow all the blows cancer‘s dealt you in a far, dark corner of your mind.

If you keep ruminating on the missed diagnosis, the clumsy chemo nurse, and how you got stuck with the worst side effects, you’ll never turn the corner. Bury the hurts – and look to a healthy future.

6. Put away your “cancer clothes.”

I guarantee there’s a comfortable piece of clothing that helped carry you through the cancer experience. A nightshirt, a pair of jeans, a favorite shirt…

Hard as it feels right now, either get rid of it, or hide it deep in the recesses of your closet. You don’t need a constant reminder of the experience you’ve just been through. Instead, buy something new – something that symbolizes your new, healthy life.

7. Patience is a virtue.

Accept this fact: you won’t feel better right away. It takes at least a couple of months for chemo drugs to completely leave your system. And you may carry radiation soreness and tightness for quite awhile, too. As for feeling “normal” – that may take a couple of years.

But gradually, ever so gradually, trust me on this: you WILL feel better.

8. Organize and file your paperwork.

You’ll probably be dealing with the financial fallout of cancer for months to come. It helps to have your paperwork at least somewhat in order, so that you can quickly find what you’re looking for when waging battle with the hospital or your insurance company.

You didn’t have the strength to deal with all of this while you were in the midst of treatment; now you do. Bite the bullet, and start filing!

9. Be kind when people say, “You’re cured, right?”

So many friends and even family members assume that once treatment is over you’re cured: “back to normal.”

But cancer leaves physical and emotional scars that will never heal. You may choose to explain this to folks assuming you’re “good as new” – or you may not. But either way, don’t show any irritation when friends blithely assume you can do everything you’ve always done. It’s not their fault; only those of us who’ve experienced cancer can truly understand the permanent toll it takes.

10. Raise a toast today.

To the New Year. Your new normal. A new you.

Now’s the perfect time to re-prioritize your life. Does it really matter that you’ll never look or feel the same as you did before cancer? Decide what’s really important (health, friendship, the love of family), and what you can let go of (petty irritations, office politics). Then move forward with hope and confidence.

Happy New Year, one and all!

Breast cancer survivor and award-winning author PJ Hamel, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network.

PJ Hamel
Meet Our Writer
PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via