PURPOSE:Exercise-based rehabilitation is not routinely offered to patients. We explored the experience of cancer survivors completing an exercise-based cancer rehabilitation program with and without motivational interviewing. METHOD:A qualitative study using semi-structured interviews and thematic analysis was completed with a purposive sample of 26 cancer survivors (n = 17 female, n = 18 post-treatment) participating in cancer rehabilitation at a tertiary hospital. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Coding was completed by two reviewers independently and confirmed by a third reviewer. RESULTS:The main theme that emerged was exercise-based rehabilitation facilitated a return to normality after diagnosis which included positive changes in physical activity behaviour. Sub-themes were that rehabilitation is person-centred, challenges expectations, empowering and facilitated by expert staff. Common themes emerged whether participants received additional motivational interviewing or not. However, participants who received motivational interviewing were more likely to report feeling accountable for their physical activity levels. Transition to ongoing independent physical activity remained a challenge for some people who did not feel empowered or socially supported. CONCLUSION:Exercise-based cancer rehabilitation is important in facilitating 'return to normal' including increased participation in physical activity. To challenge expectations and to empower cancer survivors, rehabilitation programs should be person-centred and led by expert staff.