Survivorship, or being a survivor is a term coined for people who have diagnosed with cancer. The term survivor typically begins at the day of diagnosis, making anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, a survivor.
Survivorship is a holistic approach to a cancer diagnosis. And incorporates emotional, and spiritual care when dealing with your diagnosis. Additionally, survivorship does not stop once treatment does. It continues with you and helps you deal with concerns that occur after treatment.
Survivorship is important because it provides care and reassurances for feelings, thoughts and other aspects of care that may be missed. It does not solely fixate on treatment such as chemo and radiotherapy but your entire cancer experience which may include late-effects.
Late effects are side effects or symptoms that you start experiencing after you have finished treatment. Not everyone will experience late-effects but they are important to know.
One common late effect is infertility for both men and women. Chemotherapy can damage eggs in females and sperm in males. Radiotherapy to either male or female reproductive organs can also lead to infertility. Many men and women are unaware of their fertility status after cancer treatment and don’t usually have any support or guidance until they are ready to reproduce.
Late effects are not necessarily physical side effects and symptoms, they can also relate to the emotional aspect caused by a cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment. People often find, after a cancer diagnosis, that their views on certain topics have changed, as well as are to able to cope better or poorer than they did before treatment. Late effects help you cope with physical and emotional side effects experienced post cancer treatment.
Although the number of people being diagnosed with cancer is increasing, prognosis and five-year survival rates are at the best they have been. Meaning people diagnosed with cancer are living longer and surviving cancer more than people diagnosed with cancer even 10 years ago.
However, when diagnosed with cancer, there can be a lingering fear that your cancer may return. These are normal emotions, that should be expected to be heightened when regular check-ups are approaching or when experiencing new side effects or symptoms (even if they are unrelated).
It is important though to find a balance, and ensure you do not dwell on whether your cancer will return. As this can cause unnecessary anxiety and stress, and negatively affect your day to day life.
Some people find that there is a heightened level of emotion when treatment is finished. For some, they may have many weeks to months of chemo, radiotherapy, or both. As well as have surgery before or after other treatments. There is a level of comfort associated with treatment, a safety net so to speak, and once finished, it can sometimes cause anxiety. This may seem quite strange for some people to feel or even hear, but can be quite common.
It is important to find someone who you can talk to honestly and openly to about how you are coping after treatment. This could be a family member, friend, someone who has gone through a similar experience to you, or a paid professional. Discussing your feelings, expressing your emotions and identifying your needs can help you cope once treatment has finished and readjust after treatment.
Everyone’s cancer journey is unique to them. People also express their feelings differently, so don’t feel like you need to act or feel a certain way because that is what you feel you should do.
Physically, once treatment is over you may not instantly feel better. It can take time to fully recovery from treatments such as surgery, chemo or radiotherapy. For some people, they may never fully return to their fitness level and mobility before treatment. To ensure you don’t over exert yourself, setting expectations on how you should feel can help transition post treatment.
Treatment specific side effects, such as cancer induced nausea and vomiting, peripheral neuropathy, chemo brain, fatigue and skin problems should start resolving once treatment has finished; for some treatment-related side effects, you may only start seeing improvements are few weeks to months after treatment stops. However, side effects such as chemo brain and peripheral neuropathy can last for many years after treatment. Some people will live with permanent side effects.
Many people find that after treatment they are able to return to work. Some people are able to continue working during their treatment as well. However, not everyone will be able to return or continue working during or post treatment. It is important to discuss your work and whether adjustments need to be made so you can continue working at your best. Many people find working stimulates their brain and helps fight off cognitive impairment and fatigue caused by treatment. However, this is not the case for everyone.
Being aware of how you feeling and what suits you will allow you to continue working or return to work.
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