Life After Cancer: Survivors’ Challenges and Traumas

Cancer survivors are a community of their own with each member dealing with their trauma and challenges. Read how do they cope with it?

Last Updated on February 5, 2024 by Neelam Singh

The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that cancer is currently more deadly than cardiovascular diseases. In 2019, according to a Lancet study, India recorded over 12 lakh new cancer cases. Out of that 9.3 lakh deaths were due to cancer, as per report. This number made India second-highest contributor to the cancer burden in Asia that year.

However, those who fought cancer and now are in the list of ‘cancer survivors’ have their own psychological struggle even after the treatment. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), about 25% of cancer survivors have persistent problems, including anxiety, depression, and other psychological and social (psychosocial) distress.

Surviving Cancer

Dr Ramandeep

Dr. Ramandeep Singh Arora who is a pediatric oncologist practising in Max Super Speciality Hospital, Delhi, said that different age groups have different struggles. “So a three-year-old cancer patient or survivor has different psychological struggles than a 10-year-old and 15-year-old. They experience stress and anxiety from loss of control, loss of autonomy, not being able to do the things they want to do, not being able to be in touch with friends, body image – maybe putting on weight, maybe losing weight, losing hair, etc.”, said Dr. Ramandeep.

He further added that while these individuals were trying to find an identity for themselves, suddenly cancer came into their lives and they are no longer in control of what they can eat, when they can eat, where they can go, who they can meet.

THIP media spoke to a few cancer survivors to understand their psychological struggle even after triumphing over the deadly disease.

Social Discrimination

Manisha - cancer survivor

Manisha Kumari, 23, hails from Bihar, Muzaffarpur was 21-years old when she was diagnosed with sarcoma cancer. Since her parents’ earning was not enough, they faced financial issues. “There was a time when we could not go for treatment because my parents could not afford the expenses”, told Manisha.

However, she got in touch with some NGOs and the cost of the treatment was reduced to half. After one year of extensive treatment in Mumbai’s Tata Memorial hospital, when she came back to her native place in Bihar, she faced an unexpected reality of the society.

Her friends rejected her. “Since my hair was lost due to the chemotherapy, I would cover my head all the time. I would look different after the treatment. So, when my friends got to know that I had cancer, they stopped meeting and talking to me”, said Manisha.

She went on to express her feelings because of her friend’s distancing behaviour, Manisha said, “It was disheartening. The disease is dangerous and you suffer a lot in the journey of fighting it. During the treatment and after it, you need your family and friends to support you emotionally, but they left me as if I have done something wrong.”

Currently, Manisha is preparing for Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC). 

Fear of cancer coming back


Even if the cancer treatment is successful, cancer survivors have to visit the hospital for regular checkups every three months for at least five years. This is the most traumatic period for every cancer survivor. Delhi based Kapil Chawla, 39, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2005. There was not much financial struggle as his father had a decent government job. But he is often in fear of cancer coming back.

“I always have a monkey on my back. When there were regular checkups every three months, the hospital visit was full of fear of cancer coming back until reports came normal”, said Kapil.

He further explained that, during that five-year period, cancer survivors can’t go out of the city for education and work. Because they can’t miss any single checkup at any cost. “At the time when I should have to focus on my education and career, I was in constant worry of cancer coming back. I wanted to go to Mumbai and pursue cinematography, but I could not because I had to be in Delhi for regular checkups”, said Kapil.

Even now, when he faces any health issues, his fear of cancer coming back emerges.

Not suitable for marriage

Cancer survivors also face discrimination when it comes to marriage. They are “not suitable for marriage” as per the society’s mindset. Kapil would receive a lot of marriage proposals, however, when Kapil and his family would tell them that Kapil had cancer, they would withdraw their proposals.

“When my parents and aunts realised that because of me being a cancer survivor, the marriage prospects declined, they began to hide the ‘cancer’ tag. However, I was against this, because I did not want my marriage to be built on one big lie”, told Kapil.

Eventually, he got his life partner who despite knowing that Kapil is a cancer survivor, fell in love with him and now they are happily married. “In the first meeting with my wife, I told her about my cancer. She did not have any problem. However, when her family got to know about my cancer, they refused. But my wife had already decided to tie the knot with me”, said Kapil.

Kapil runs a PR agency and also takes part in various activities related to helping cancer patients.

Low self-esteem


Hiba Iqra, 27, based in Delhi was diagnosed with intestine cancer when she was just six years old. She survived the cancer after two years of treatment, but she developed low self-esteem issues.

Although she was very young to understand what was happening with her when she was diagnosed with cancer. As she grew up, she began to realise that she can’t achieve much in life and she gradually developed low self-esteem.

“I wanted to become a doctor. Then I began to think that it is tough for me because it requires a lot of hard work. After 12th, I got to know about psychology and I developed an interest in it. I then pursued a BA in psychology honours. Now, I am a psychologist and help cancer patients deal with their mental health issues”, said Hiba.

Now, Hiba understood that in many cases cancer can’t be a hurdle to achieve anything in life. But the low self-esteem led by cancer hampers the mindset and dream of cancer survivors.


Dream big

For instance, Pankaj Yadav, 29 who hails from Haryana, was diagnosed with an eye cancer namely Retinoblastoma when he was four. His treatment lasted for one year. The cancer affected his one-eyesight. His parents also could not afford the treatment and borrowed money from friends and relatives.

Because of his affected eyesight, Pankaj would face bullies when he was in school. When bullies would take a toll on him, he would cry in isolation. However, this did not stop him dreaming big. He wanted to become a fighter pilot, but he had to choose engineering due to his eyesight. Then he enrolled in IIT-Delhi for Biochemical Engineering and then did MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad. Now he is working in PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as a senior consultant.

He has also appeared for UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) mains twice but could not make it to the final interview. He is preparing for his third attempt with positivity and perseverance.

“We can’t cry all the time for what happened to us. Rather we can make sure what we can do and achieve as high as possible in life. Life is tough and we have to learn to thrive in it, instead of giving up”, said cancer survivor Pankaj Yadav.

The cancer survivor psychologist Hiba also suggested that those who suffer psychologically due to cancer should see experts like her so that cancer should not become a hurdle when it comes to living life to the fullest.

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