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Navigating a new cancer survivorship plan

When treatments and surgeries are over for a cancer patient, a whole new world awaits. Many cancer patients are happy and relieved but may also wonder what comes next.

As medicine evolves and we become better at treating this disease, navigating ‘Survivorship’ becomes a mix of managing physical, emotional and lifestyle changes.

A new normal

During the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, most people receive a lot of support from friends and family. After the treatment, there is a natural lull, even though the patient still has concerns, hopes and fears.

Most cancer patients expect strong emotions during treatments and surgeries. However, many are surprised when new or old emotions occur after treatment is complete. Expecting these changes help in designing a post-cancer game plan.

Follow-up medical care

Your medical team will be important to you after your treatment. Decisions like how often to seek checkups, what symptoms to look for and when to return to your regular doctor are all part of the mix. The team at The University of Arizona Cancer Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center provides support in medical care, nutritionists, social workers and spiritual care.
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The American Society of Clinical Oncologist recommends keeping a copy of your survivorship care plan and your summary of treatment for your records and to share it with any doctors that you see in the future.

“If you are returning to your primary care doctor, ask for a detailed summary of all previous treatments and the risk for developing late effects from your oncologist,” American Society of Clinical Oncologist instructs. “This information is important to your primary doctor, who may not have been involved in many of the parts of your cancer treatment. It gives him or her the information necessary to plan your follow-up care.”

Physical changes

Although your body may be cancer-free, the effects of the treatments may linger. In some cases, the effects may manifest years after the treatment. Because each body responds differently to treatment, your experience will be a personal one. Many of the symptoms, like nausea, dry mouth, swelling or pain can be controlled. Let your doctor know about changes in your health.

A post cancer exercise program is vital in the overall recovery process. Substantial evidence supports benefits to the heart, lungs and other body system, as well as decreased risk for recurring disease.

Family issues

Your recovery may take longer than you or your family anticipated. During the course of your treatment some family dynamics may have changed — permanently.

It is important to communicate honestly with your family members. Finding a support group can help.

Moving forward

As you move to the post-treatment phase, you likely will feel anxious and hopeful. “Cancer patients are considered survivors from the moment they are diagnosed,” said Kerry Tobias, DO, medical director of the Supportive Care and Survivorship Program at The University of Arizona Cancer Center at St. Joseph’s.

It might be a long transition, but give yourself time and continue to seek help and guidance from qualified experts that can help you understand the process.

Dignity HealthIf you have a family history of certain types of cancer or if you would like to talk with a counselor about your potential risk factors, you can contact an expert at The University of Arizona Cancer Center at St. Joseph’s.