Cancer Survivorship – Beating Your Cancer and Living Your Life
I am encouraged – most of the people I know who have had cancer have beaten their disease and become cancer survivors. They struggled through the chemotherapy, the radiation treatment, surgery, physical and emotional upheavals and come out on the other side. It is a time of celebration and elation.
But then the reality of life after cancer kicks in, and many of them find themselves in a kind of limbo. Lingering disease and treatment side effects, or “late effects,” such as lymphadema, memory and attention loss, muscle weakness, chronic pain and fatigue, affect their daily life. Some are no longer able to work in their jobs, and feel unvalued. Some are dismissed by the very doctors who helped to save their lives.
Many health care providers, especially those outside major medical centers, have not had much experience with long term cancer survivors, and are uneducated about potential late effects. The challenges of a post-cancer life can be more like a chronic illness, taking a new toll on the survivor and family.
Cancer survivor stories abound on the internet – mostly how the cancer was beaten, and how various treatments worked for the survivors. In recent years, however, there is a new focus on how to LIVE as a long-term cancer survivor.
In doing some research for a client who has numerous serious late effect conditions, I discovered the Cancer Survivors Project (http://www.cancersurvivorsproject.org). It is an organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults after cancer, to making widely available information about the physical, emotional and mental late effects of cancer treatment. The stories of long-term cancer survivors illustrate that, even after the personal war against the cancer is won, there are hills to climb. Family, friends, good nutrition, compassionate and knowledgeable medical care – the tools of the battle – are still often needed to support the survivor in “real life” after the cancer is gone.
Today, there are nearly 12 million cancer survivors in the United States. If you are one of them, remember that just as you won your fight against cancer, you can learn to live and enjoy your new life as a strong and proud survivor.
For further information, visit the Office of Cancer Survivorship at the National Cancer Institute: http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/ocs/
Guest editor: Debora Harvey, Client Service Director at Patient Navigator, LLC