Survivorship

Life After Cancer

A “survivor” is generally defined as a person who continues to function, prosper and cope well with life's difficulties. As a “cancer survivor,” you realize the meaning takes on an even greater purpose. You have made it through active treatment and adjusted your life in many ways — personally, professionally, physically and emotionally. Not only have you demonstrated the strength and will to survive, you are working hard to get the most out of your life. You now define "survivor".

As you transition from active treatment to post treatment, you may find that returning to the way life used to be may be difficult. The first few months will be a time of change — from your finances and eating habits to your emotional well-being. Give yourself time to adapt to these changes. Planning, knowing the available resources and learning how other survivors have handled this next step will help.

Defining Cancer Survivorship

A common definition of cancer survivorship includes people who are living with, through and beyond cancer. This includes those who are living cancer-free and those who are continuing cancer treatment as a chronic condition. For the purpose of this guide, the terms “survivor” and “survivorship” are meant to be used in reference to individuals who have moved past the initial treatment phase.

Survivorship Statistics

Cancer statistics are important for understanding how cancer affects the population and for assessing the success in society’s ability to manage the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, as of January 2016, there are a million more cancer survivors than the previous year, with more than 15.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S.; 67 percent of those survivors are five years or more beyond their original diagnosis, with 17 percent diagnosed 20 or more years before. Advances in early detection and treatment, and improvements in side effect management, can be credited with increasing survival rates.

What To Expect

Issues related to cancer and its treatments are not always resolved when treatment ends, and it can take time to recover. Recovery – both physical and mental – takes a great amount of patience, as your body may feel the aftermath long after treatment has ended. Side effects, such as fatigue, chronic pain or cognitive dysfunction (“chemo brain”), could last days, months or even years. You may also experience changes in mood or emotions that can range from joy and relief to anxiety and fear.

There are many ways to alleviate and manage these effects and moods, so maintaining an open dialogue with your health care team even after treatment ends is vital. Your quality of life after cancer should be a continuing, lifelong focus as you move forward.

Many national advocacy groups suggest survivorship plans to help ease the transition from active treatment to post treatment. Each person has a different story, and your experiences may be unlike any others. As you write this next chapter, remember that there are resources available to help.

Additional Resources

 

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