Simply put, cancer survivorship is life after receiving a cancer diagnosis. It includes the time between diagnosis and the start of treatment, the duration of treatment, and all time after treatment, whether or not it was successful. Right now, there are about 15 million children and adults in the US in a stage of cancer survivorship.
Life changes in significant ways with a cancer diagnosis. Unforeseen physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges arise, often from treatment as well as the disease. And some of these struggles last far beyond treatment, even when the cancer is cured. In other circumstances, the decision to stop treatment that’s proving ineffective bring its own set of challenges.
It’s so important that people have support from family, friends, healthcare professionals, and other concerned parties through their cancer survivorship. Often, survivors feel well supported through their course of treatment, but then find that much of their support falls away after treatment.
But the challenges don’t end when treatment does. Even with a cure or full remission, new priorities, attitudes, concerns, doubts, fears, nagging questions, and more set in. This is sometimes referred to as “the new normal.”
“The New Normal” of Cancer Survivorship
Most cancer survivors find that life doesn’t get back to normal during and after treatment. Instead, they learn to live with a new normal. Some challenges that commonly arise include:
- Dealing with treatment side effects, which can be severe
- More doctor appointments and cancer screenings
- Eating better and making other positive lifestyle changes
- Worrying that the cancer will come back
- Second-guessing decisions that were made
- Learning to work around new physical limitations
- Guilt over inability to do things like before or dependence on others
- Coping with scars or other physical disfigurement
- Pressure to accomplish goals
- Wanting to spend more time with loved ones
- Feeling isolated or deprived of certain desired support
Cancer Survivorship Support
All cancer survivors need a support network to help cope with the challenges of treatment and the new normal. Doctors, mental health professionals, family, friends, colleagues, fellow members of faith groups, support groups, caregivers, and others can all play important support roles in survivorship.
Here at the Northwest Florida Cancer Control Collaborative, we’re dedicated to helping area residents better understand the role of survivorship support and to helping them access it.