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  • Looking after yourself after treatment for bowel cancer

    Contents

    Cancer can cause physical and emotional strain. It’s important to try to look after your well-being as much as possible.

    Nutrition

    Eating healthy food can help you cope with treatment and side effects. A dietitian can help you manage special dietary needs or eating problems, and choose the best foods for your situation.

    For more information about nutrition, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or you can download the booklet Nutrition and Cancer.

    Staying active

    Physical activity may help to reduce tiredness, improve circulation and elevate mood. The amount and type of exercise you do depends on what you are used to, how you feel, and your doctor’s advice.

    For more information about exercise, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or you can download the booklet Exercise for people living with cancer.

    Complementary therapies

    These therapies are used with conventional medical treatments. You may have therapies such as massage, relaxation and acupuncture to increase your sense of control, decrease stress and anxiety, and improve your mood. Let your doctor know about any therapies you are using or thinking about trying as some may not be safe or evidence based.

    Alternative therapies are used instead of conventional medical treatments. These therapies, such as coffee enemas and magnet therapy, can be harmful.

    For more information about complementary therapies, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or you can download the booklet Understanding Complementary Therapies.

    Relationships with others

    Having cancer can affect your relationships with family, friends and colleagues. This may be because cancer is stressful, tiring and upsetting, or as a result of more positive changes to your values, priorities or outlook on life.

    Give yourself time to adjust to what’s happening and do the same for others. People may deal with the cancer in different ways, for example by being overly positive, playing down fears or keeping a distance. It may be helpful to discuss your feelings with each other or with a health professional, such as a nurse or a counsellor.

    Sexuality, intimacy and fertility

    Cancer can affect your sexuality in physical and emotional ways. The impact of these changes depends on many factors such as treatment and side effects, your self-confidence, and if you have a partner. Although sexual intercourse may not always be possible, closeness and sharing can still be part of your relationship.

    If you are able to have sex, you may be advised to use certain types of contraception to avoid pregnancy, for a certain period of time. Your doctor will talk to you about the precautions to take. They will also tell you if treatment will affect your fertility permanently or temporarily. If having children is important to you, talk to your doctor before starting treatment.

    For more information on sexuality, intimacy and fertility, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or download the booklets Sexuality, Intimacy and CancerFertility and Cancer and Emotions and Cancer.

    Life after treatment

    For most people, the cancer experience doesn’t end on the last day of treatment. Life after cancer can present its own challenges. You may have mixed feelings when treatment ends, and worry that every ache and pain means the cancer is coming back.

    Some people say that they feel pressure to return to ‘normal life’, but they don’t want life to return to how it was before cancer. Take some time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes, and re-establish a new daily routine at your own pace. Cancer Council 13 11 20 can help you connect with other people who have had cancer, and provide you with information about the emotional and practical aspects of living well after cancer.

    Dealing with feelings of sadness

    If you have continued feelings of sadness, have trouble getting up in the morning or have lost motivation to do things that previously gave you pleasure, you may be experiencing depression. This is quite common among people who have had cancer.

    Talk to your GP, as counselling or medication—even for a short time—​​​​​​​may help. Some people are able to get a Medicare rebate for sessions with a psychologist. Ask your doctor if you are eligible. Cancer Council SA operates a free cancer counselling program. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for more information.

    The organisation beyondblue has information about coping with depression and anxiety. Go to beyondblue.org.au or call 1300 22 4636 to order a fact sheet.

    Follow-up appointments

    After your treatment, you will need regular check-ups to confirm that the cancer hasn’t come back. You may have a physical examination, blood tests including checking of CEA levels, a scan or a colonoscopy.

    Check-ups will become less frequent if you have no further problems. Between follow-up appointments, let your doctor know immediately of any health problems.

    What if bowel cancer returns?

    For some people, bowel cancer does come back after treatment, which is known as a recurrence or relapse. This is why it is important to have regular check-ups.

    If the cancer is confined to the bowel and nearby lymph nodes, it may be possible to surgically remove it. Removing the tumour can help relieve symptoms and, in some cases, may stop the cancer.

    If bowel cancer has spread beyond the bowel (advanced or metastatic bowel cancer), you may be offered treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy or radiotherapy, to remove the cancer, or help control its growth. Contact Cancer Council 13 11 20 for more information.

    If you have advanced bowel cancer, your bowel may become blocked (bowel obstruction). This can cause serious complications and needs prompt treatment. 

    This website page was last reviewed and updated November 2018

    Information reviewed by: A/Prof Craig Lynch, Colorectal Surgeon and Chair, Lower Gastrointestinal Cancer Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Merran Findlay, Executive Research Lead–Cancer Nutrition, and Oncology Specialist Dietitian, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; Jackie Johnston, Palliative Care and Stomal Therapy Clinical Nurse Consultant, St Vincent’s Private Hospital, NSW; A/Prof Susan Pendlebury, Radiation Oncologist, St Vincent’s Clinic, NSW; Jan Priaulx, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; A/Prof Eva Segelov, Professor of Oncology, Monash Health and Monash University, VIC; Heather Turner, Consumer; Lynne Wolowiec, Consumer.

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