“Very few things compare to the message that you are now “free of cancer”. It’s exhilarating and brings a sigh of relief to the whole family. It’s behind you, you hope but somehow it is not. Your follow-up scans and colonoscopy are already in your calendar, as it will be for the next five years or longer.
You have to pick up your life again but now with a different view on your own vulnerability. Cancer will stay with you as a continued presence in the background. And that should not be negative. It’s good to be survivor. It gives a different perspective of what you appreciate. Life has more value when you’re a survivor.”
- Stefan Gijssels
Thanks to advances in medical research the effectiveness of cancer treatment continues to improve. As more people are surviving cancer how long a person lives is no longer the only focus. It is however also important to take into consideration how well they are able to live following treatment.
As you complete your cancer treatment you may be wondering: what happens next?
The transition to survivorship is unique for each person and it is full of challenges.
One of these challenges is being able to return to everyday life while adjusting to the changes that result from the disease and its treatment. Recognising these changes and knowing how and when to ask for support can help you through this period of transition. In that respect is good to also get back to work if you were employed before. There are a number of things you can do to make sure that you keep your options open with regard to employment. (REFER TO SECTION “BACK TO WORK”)
You may find that your life may be forever changed by cancer. Some people talk about appreciating life more and gaining a greater acceptance of self after their cancer treatment ends. Others become anxious about their health and unsure of how to cope with life’s demands.
Coping with Challenges
With any challenge, a good first step is being able to understand your fears and talk about them. It’s also critical to be open with immediate surroundings: spouse, children, parents and friends. Share your emotions and allow them to share their emotions and ideas too. They want to help. Effective coping requires understanding the challenge you are facing, thinking through solutions, asking for and allowing the support of others, and feeling comfortable with the course of action you choose.
Talking with your doctor about any concerns you may have is an important part of your follow-up care especially if a challenge is holding you back from enjoying your life. Just as there were support options during treatment there is help for you during your transition into survivorship.
What is survivorship?
Surviving cancer is often defined in several ways. One common definition is a person having no disease after the completion of his or her treatment.
Another common definition is the process of living with, through and beyond cancer.
By this definition, cancer survivorship begins when a person is diagnosed. It includes people who continue to have treatment to either reduce the risk of a cancer recurrence (return of cancer after treatment) or to manage the disease over a long time.
In some ways, moving from the period of “active treatment” into survivorship is one of the most complex aspects of the cancer experience because it is different for every person.
Survivorship focuses on health and the physical, psychological, social and economic issues affecting people after the end of the primary treatment for cancer.
Several associations have developed information booklets about survivorship. The purpose of these booklets is to help you as the survivor and your loved ones prepare for life after treatment. Each booklet provides information on issues that can arise, the importance of follow-up care and healthy lifestyle choices and support options.
Think about helping others
As a survivor, you have gone through a medical and emotional roller-coaster. Your experience matters to other patients who have recently been diagnosed. Why? Because you may have ideas about what can be improved in the healthcare system. You may have found things that really worked for you to get back your energy after surgery and chemotherapy. You may have thought of creative ways to involve your family and friends with your disease. Recently diagnosed patients may learn from you. Think about joining a patient organisation so that you can share ideas, and possibly also learn from other patients and survivors.
These booklets cover a wide range of topics on survivorship after cancer: