Life After Ovarian Cancer Treatment
I’m done with treatment, now what?
Over the last two decades, many improvements in treatments of ovarian cancer have led to an increase in survivorship. After successful treatment, it is important to continue visiting your doctor in order to be monitored for any possible recurrence of the disease. During your follow up appointments, blood tests will be done to monitor CA-125 levels. CA-125 is a protein in your blood that is used as one of the tools to detect recurrence. Along with blood work, you will also have physical examinations and in some cases, imaging studies. It is very important to attend your follow up appointments after your treatment has stopped in order to ensure there is no recurrence. Immediately after you end treatment, you will see your oncologist regularly. As time goes on, with positive results, you will see your oncologist less frequently. The longer you are in remission, the lower the likelihood that your ovarian cancer will come back. This is why your doctor will begin spacing out your appointments after a few years.
After treatment, some ovarian cancer patients may notice a decrease in their range of motion and strength. Rehabilitation programs can help you build up your strength again. Exercises given by a therapist in a rehabilitation center may help you strengthen your muscles.
Once you have completed treatment, it is important to take time to heal physically and mentally. Joining support groups in your area or online may help to cope with the changes back to life without cancer. Just as being diagnosed with cancer was a life-altering change, being in remission from ovarian cancer is a major change as well. Take the proper steps to adjusting to life without cancer hanging over your head. Try things you couldn’t do during treatment, reach out to friends you have missed, and take time for yourself. Don’t let cancer define you, but rather wear it as a badge of honor as you go forth as a strong, healed woman.
Connecting with young survivors
While ovarian cancer is most commonly found in women between the ages of 55 and 64 (23.8%), there are local support groups that may have access to contact information for other young women in the area with ovarian cancer.
- 1.3% of women under 20 are diagnosed with ovarian cancer
- 3.8% of women ages 20-34 are diagnosed with ovarian cancer
- 7.2% of women ages 35-44 are diagnosed with ovarian cancer
Look for organizations near you that may have meetings, conventions or blogs in which you can learn more about other survivors in your area. And feel free to reach out to OCRA — we may know people in your area!
Ask your oncology team about other young survivors in your area and ask them to put you in contact with one another. Although the hospital may not be able to give out contact information of certain patients, the hospital staff can arrange other patients communicating with one another.
Social media is another great resource to meet other young survivors, hear their stories and share yours.
The resources section of our website offers links to other AYA organizations.
Part of the healing process after you have completed your treatment is to overcome new challenges that you had not faced before, and you can do that along with other young women in your community. You may have a difficult time adjusting to life without cancer and your family and friends may not understand. Having a relationship with other women your age who have battled ovarian cancer can make you feel as though you are not alone. Distraction can also be helpful in the healing process. Incorporate activities that you enjoy and stay focused on the things that make you happy and bring you pleasure.
Questions about recurrence
One of the most common fears after treatment of any type of cancer is recurrence — the cancer coming back. It can be particularly challenging for you as a young woman who still has so much life ahead. You will continue to see your oncologist following the completion of your treatment at regular intervals – more often in the first few years out of treatment and then less frequently in later years. Your doctor will not only monitor how you are feeling and any residual side effects, but also check to ensure the cancer has stayed away (if you are in remission). The later the stage of the diagnosis, the greater the chance of recurrence (i.e. women with stage IV disease are more likely to recur than women with stage II disease). Young adults are also more likely to be diagnosed with a secondary cancer, that is, a different type of cancer. But remember, your chances for success are better the sooner you catch the disease so stay on top of those doctor’s appointments.
Recurrence, much like your original diagnosis, has vague symptoms. If you begin to notice any persistent changes in your health, particularly ones that were similar to your previous symptoms, tell your doctor immediately. You may feel you are acting paranoid or rash, but it is better to get checked out than wonder. And remember, you know your body better than anyone! If something feels wrong, make sure someone hears you. Your doctor will likely run many of the same scans you’ve already been through before to check for recurrent disease.