Life after cancer
Beginning your survivor journey
As a survivor, you’ve battled the disease, the treatments and the side effects, now joining an elite “club” as many survivors call it. You and millions of others in the United States have lived with, through and beyond cancer. Although being a member means you’ve likely gone through one of the most difficult challenges in your life, you’re now an integral part of a network composed of strong individuals who understand and appreciate the need for support and camaraderie, perhaps now more than ever.
As you transition into survivorship, you may experience some unexpected difficulty. You may begin to realize that unfortunately the issues related to your cancer do not end when treatment stops. Your history of disease will affect both your health care needs and your lifestyle every day from here on. Knowing what to expect, the resources available and how other survivors have been able to handle the changes can be valuable assets as you continue your own journey into life after cancer.
Defining cancer survivorship
Cancer survivorship is often defined in two ways: completing treatment and having no remaining signs of disease; or living with, through and beyond cancer. According to the second definition, survivorship begins at diagnosis, continues through treatment and persists past it—including those who are living disease-free and those who are managing cancer as a chronic condition. For the purpose of this content, we’ll use the terms “survivor” and “survivorship” to refer to any individual who has moved past initial treatment and is readjusting to daily life.
Early screening tests, new developments and improvements in treatment, and better side effect management are all credited with the increasing cancer survival rates. More than 60 percent of the estimated 14.5 million survivors in the U.S. today are five or more years beyond their original diagnoses, with 15 percent of individuals diagnosed 20 or more years ago.
The cancer community is realizing now that with more and more survivors comes the responsibility to continue care beyond treatment. Recovery – both physical and mental – takes time, resources, education, commitment and patience. Many national advocacy groups are addressing these issues by creating survivorship plans in an effort to ease the transition for both patients and health care providers.
What to expect
Cancer and its treatment can affect your body long after it ends—for days, months or even years. Many cancer survivors must manage continuing and late effects of treatment, such as infertility, chronic pain or cognitive changes. There are ways to alleviate and manage these effects, so maintaining an open dialogue with your health care team even after treatment has ended is vital. Your quality of life after cancer should be a continuing, lifelong focus as you move forward from your diagnosis.
The effects of cancer and its treatments also include psychosocial and emotional changes. Surviving cancer can stir up a lot of feelings, which will be different for everyone. Survivors often experience a mixture of emotions, from relief and joy to stress, depression, guilt or fear. It’s important to be aware that these emotions and many others may arise so you can be prepared to acknowledge, accept and move past them—and seek the appropriate help if you have trouble doing so.
About this content
While this content is primarily for people who have survived a cancer diagnosis, family and friends of survivors can also gain insight and knowledge that will help them provide support to their loved ones. You'll find information about creating a survivorship plan, re-entering the work force, managing the late effects of cancer, living a healthy lifestyle, coping with the emotional effects of cancer, reclaiming your sexuality, resuming your family life and more. You will also find information about financial considerations, support and advocacy groups and you willl be directed to additional websites to help you better understand cancer survivorship.