Feelings after breast cancer


It’s likely that women will experience a range of emotions once treatment for breast cancer is over. Feelings can range from relief that treatment is over, happiness about being able to return to things that are important, nervousness about what the future holds, or a sense of isolation because regular appointments with the treatment team have stopped.

Some women feel uncertain about the future and worried about life after breast cancer. Women manage these uncertainties in different ways. Living with uncertainty can be upsetting or overwhelming. For some people, uncertainty can be the motivation to make changes in their life.

It’s important that once treatment is over you continue to share your feelings with those close to you and seek help from a health professional if needed. Some women find it helpful to join a support group or talk to other women who have been through a similar experience.

This section talks about how women and those close to them may feel once treatment is over. There are pages that deal with specific feelings and issues such as fear of recurrence, loss, depression, isolation and sense of self. Links are provided to additional resources and sources of information.

If any of your feelings are overwhelming you or preventing you from sleeping or doing everyday activities, talk to your doctor, nurse or another health professional. Treatments and therapies are available and can help.


Finding a new ‘normal’

Treatment for breast cancer can last for some time and some women find it hard to come to terms with treatment ending. Some women say they feel like a different person after breast cancer. 

Family, friends and colleagues may expect you to be ‘back to normal’ when treatment is over. But for you, ‘normal’ may not mean quite the same thing as it did before your diagnosis. You may feel differently about your body, your relationships or you may have different priorities now that treatment is over. Some people find it hard to manage these changes.

It can be helpful to talk to friends and family about how you’re feeling. If you’re anxious or worried about what the future holds, talk to a member of your treatment team. Remember, the feelings of anxiety, sadness, fear or worry will not last forever. Most people find that things improve with support and with time.

Some women find that a diagnosis of breast cancer gives them a new perspective on life and makes them rethink what is important to them. You may find yourself considering new directions for your work or social activities or you may find you make new friends through your cancer journey. For some women, the experience of being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer provides opportunities they would not have considered before their diagnosis.

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Fear of recurrence

The fear of breast cancer coming back is perhaps one of the most important and difficult issues faced by women who have been treated for early breast cancer. For many women, breast cancer treatment is successful and breast cancer does not come back. 

However, for some women, breast cancer is found some time later in the breast that was treated or in other parts of the body. We don’t know why breast cancer comes back in some women but not in others. This is why regular follow-up is essential after treatment for early breast cancer.

Some women find it reassuring to have regular follow-up tests. Others feel anxious around the time of their appointments. Both reactions are normal. Sharing your feelings, even painful feelings, with others can help.

Talk to your doctors if you feel anxious around the time of follow-up tests as help is available.

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Feelings of loss

Loss is a profound feeling and it can be very difficult to deal with it. Feelings of sadness or grief are a common reaction to experiencing a loss, such as losing your breast, being ill, losing the lifestyle you once enjoyed or not being able to have children. 

You may feel that your body has let you down or you may feel angry that you have lost important time because of your treatment.

If any of your feelings are overwhelming you or preventing you from sleeping or doing everyday activities, talk to your doctor, nurse or another health professional. Treatments and therapies are available and can help.


Some women feel alone or isolated after breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The intentions of others may be good, but sometimes people don't know how to deal with cancer and the emotions it brings up. It could be that you feel people are avoiding you, or that they're pretending everything is fine while carrying on normally with their lives.

At times you could feel pressure to be 'positive', making it hard for you to talk about the things that matter to you. Feeling isolated is a possibility because you're experiencing something that others have not been through. It can be hard to describe your experience to them.

You may like to speak with a cancer nurse at the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 or be linked into Cancer Connect to share your feelings with someone who has been through a similar experience.

Anxiety and depression

Anxiety and depression are common feelings after diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer.

Signs of anxiety:

  • constantly feeling agitated or angry
  • sleeping difficulties
  • having difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • avoiding distressing issues and situations
  • feeling a constant need for reassurance.

Signs of depression:

  • always feeling low or flat
  • losing interest in things that used to be enjoyable
  • having difficulty sleeping
  • poor appetite (although this may also be a  side effect of treatment).

Depression can make it harder to deal with physical symptoms and to cope with breast cancer. Some women avoid talking about their emotional concerns or seeking help because they feel they should be coping or they don’t want to be a burden to others. Others are encouraged by those around them to be strong and positive, which can make it hard to ask for help.

Not sure how you feel?

Sometimes it can be difficult for people who have been diagnosed with cancer to put into words how they are feeling.

Tools such as a distress thermometer can be very helpful in explaining to others what you’re experiencing.

You may be familiar with a pain scale, where you’re asked to describe your level of pain on a scale from zero to 10. A score above 5 indicates significant pain.

Similar to the pain scale, a distress thermometer allows you to pinpoint exactly how you’re feeling on a distress scale from 0 to 10. The thermometer can be filled out while you’re waiting for treatment or an appointment. It asks you to rate how much distress you have been feeling over the past week including today.

The scale ranges from ‘no distress’ (0) to ‘extreme distress’ (10). People with a distress level above 5 on the thermometer will usually need some form of professional support.

The thermometer also comes with a list of specific problems different people face and asks you to circle any that have been an issue for you in the past week including today. This can open up the opportunity to work through specific issues.

To view an example of a distress thermometer, see the "Cancer how are you travelling - guide".

Finding support

Having practical and emotional support during and after diagnosis and treatment for cancer is very important. Support may be available from family and friends, health professionals or special support services.

More information about finding support can be found here in the dedicated Living with cancer section. This information deals with some of the challenges experienced by people affected by cancer. It includes information about managing some of the longer term side effects of treatment, how people close to you might feel after a diagnosis of cancer, and where to find practical and emotional support.

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