Having cancer is a life-changing experience – one that may cause patients to have a new perspective of themselves, their faith, their relationships, and their life. Even after treatment, many cancer survivors find it challenging to return to a normal, daily life. Their world has been flipped upside down and they may wonder, “What do I do now?”
More than 11 million people in the United States are classified as cancer survivors, meaning that they are currently living with or healing from cancer. Whether you are a cancer survivor or you know someone who is, understanding common challenges of “survivorship” can help you or a loved one enjoy a healthy, happy, meaningful life.
Fear of recurrence: Many cancer survivors fear that the disease may come back without warning. They may fear that any minor symptom is a sign that cancer has returned. This may cause problems such as anxiety, irritability, or lack of sleep.
Depression: Experiencing a life-threatening disease can be traumatic. Cancer survivors may feel alone or neglected, especially if others give them less attention once they seem “fine” or “back to normal.”
Physical problems: Fighting cancer certainly takes its toll on the body. Some cancer survivors experience “chemo brain,” a term used to describe brain challenges such as trouble concentrating, remembering or multi-tasking. Other survivors experience fatigue, an inability to have children, pain, or changes in weight or eating habits.
Major life changes: Cancer has the potential to affect life in negative and positive ways. Yet even the positive effects may be challenging because they are so life-altering. Survivors may have a fresh outlook on life, seek new adventures or passions, or cut off weak relationships.
“Survivorship” TipsThe best thing cancer survivors can do is take care of themselves. It will take some time to find out what “normal” means. Even though cancer survivors may not be receiving active treatment, they still need support through this transitional time. Here are a few ways cancer survivors can help themselves heal after their cancer journey:
Make the most of follow-up care: Being involved with their individual health care may help some cancer survivors feel more in control of their lives and their health. If you are a survivor, work with your doctor to develop a follow-up care plan. Be open with your doctor, telling him/her of any symptoms, pain, or questions you may have.
Take advantage of complementary care: There are many beneficial treatments available in addition to those prescribed by a doctor. Complementary care – including yoga, art therapy, movement therapy, and massage – may reduce stress and improve quality of life. Patients should talk with their doctor first to determine whether the addition of this treatment is the best course of action.
Be easy on yourself: Cancer survivors sometimes blame themselves for the challenges they are facing, even without realizing it. They may feel stupid or crazy because they can’t yet function the way they did before cancer. It’s OK for cancer survivors to grieve the losses they’ve had and to have “bad days” like everybody else.
Find a supportive network: Just as it’s impossible to fight cancer alone, it’s also impossible to survive cancer alone. If you’re a cancer survivor, talk with family members, friends and other survivors about the challenges you face. Accept help when you need it from those who offer and keep up with your contacts during your recovery. If you have a loved one who is a survivor, know that the need for support may last a lifetime.
In our local community, there are resources available for cancer survivors to help them with this transitional time. This month, the ProMedica Cancer Institute debuts its survivor center, a clinic that provides coordinated and customized follow-up care for patients. At the center, a medical oncologist and a nurse practitioner work with patients to create a care plan that is unique to their physical, social and emotional needs. Other support services – such as complementary therapies, support groups, genetic counseling, educational seminars, and social work support – are also available. For more information, call 877-291-1441.
Dr. Valdivieso is the Medical Director of the ProMedica Cancer Institute, which offers comprehensive oncology programs and services to patients across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.ProMedica Cancer Institute is a member of ProMedica Health System.