Survivorship

Overview

No two cancer survivors are alike because every person’s experience with the disease is unique. The term “survivor” means different things to different people, but it commonly refers to anyone who has lived with, through or beyond cancer. So whether you’ve completed active treatment and are disease-free or are living with metastatic cancer, this guide is designed for you and your loved ones.

You’re Among Millions of Fellow Survivors

As of January 2019, there were an estimated 16.9 million cancer survivors in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Statistics. More than two out of three survivors were five years or more beyond their original diagnosis, and nearly one in five had been diagnosed 20 or more years earlier. Advances in early detection, innovations in treatment options and improvements in side effect management can be credited with the increasing number of survivors.

Expect the Unexpected, and Be Patient

Survivors are often surprised to learn that cancer-related issues frequently aren’t resolved with the end of treatment. Recovering from cancer – physically, emotionally and mentally – can take a great deal of patience and more time than many survivors and their families expect. Treatment-related side effects, such as fatigue, chronic pain and cognitive dysfunction (chemo brain), can last for weeks, months or even years (see Late Effects). You may also experience emotional changes that can range from relief and gratitude to fear and anxiety (see Emotional Late Effects). Many options are available to alleviate and manage these issues, so it’s essential to stay in frequent contact with your health care team post treatment. As you make the transition from active treatment to post treatment (or continue treatment to stop/slow disease progression), you may find it challenging to step back into the life you had before your diagnosis. The first few months in particular will be a time of change, as you may need to make temporary or permanent adjustments concerning your level of activity, schedule, education or career, diet, finances, retirement plans or other aspects of your life (see Life After Cancer). Change isn’t always easy and doesn’t happen overnight, so be kind to yourself as you learn to adapt.

Resuming Your Prior Routines

You might have originally planned to celebrate when active treatment is completed, and now your brain is playing tricks on you. You may fear that having a party could jinx the cancer into recurring. This is a common reaction. Also, because you are looking at the world with a different lens now, you may feel differently about what was important to you before your cancer diagnosis to what you believe now is more important post-cancer treatment. This can be very confusing for family, friends and co-workers. So anticipate the need to explain to others that this has been a life-altering experience, where you see your priorities today, and why. Don’t expect to jump into the routine you had before you were diagnosed with cancer. Resuming activities may take time. Be patient as you adjust to your new life as your priorities may have changed.

Change Can Bring New Opportunities

Survivorship and the self-reflection that often accompanies it can open up opportunities for new experiences and different choices. Seek these out and embrace them. Above all, recognize that you are not alone. Many larger cancer centers and community treatment centers provide survivorship clinics and programs for adults who’ve had cancer treatment, or you can search online for one. Consider joining a cancer support group that meets in-person or online to share your experiences with and learn from other survivors. Your nurse navigator or a cancer support organization can provide a list of resources. Your quality of life after cancer should be a continuing, lifelong focus. As you write this next chapter of your life story, remember there are resources available to you and fellow survivors who are ready to offer insight, friendship and support along the way.

 

Annual Celebration Spotlights Survivors

Every year on the first Sunday in June, cancer survivors, loved ones, cancer advocates and health care professionals across the U.S. celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day by participating in community events. The goal of this inspirational day, themed “A Celebration of Life,” is to increase awareness about the ongoing challenges of cancer survivorship. It’s a chance for everyone who has lived with cancer to observe the milestones they’ve reached and recognize those who have supported them along the way. Learn how to get involved and discover more cancer survivorship resources.

 

Defining Survivorship Cancer Survivorship is Sometimes Described in Phases:

  • Acute survivorship starts at diagnosis and ends when you finish initial treatment. The focus is on treating the cancer and minimizing or managing side effects.
  • Extended survivorship spans the months and years following initial treatment. The focus is on monitoring for symptoms of late effects or signs of a recurrence or second cancer; treatment continues for those with chronic disease to stop/slow progression, maintaining quality of life.
  • Long-term survivorship is when years have passed following initial diagnosis and treatment. The focus is on annual/ periodic follow-ups and addressing any major health issues developing as a result of treatment.

Additional Resources

 

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