The term “cancer survivor” commonly refers to someone who has a history of cancer. “Co-survivor” is a term sometimes used to describe a caregiver for a friend or loved one with cancer.
The word “survivor” does not appeal to all people who have a history of cancer. The reasons for this vary. For instance, they may simply identify more with being “a person who has had cancer,” or perhaps they are dealing with cancer every day and do not think of themselves as a survivor, but more as someone who is “living with cancer.”
Living life with a history of cancer is unique for each person. Yet a common thread is true for most, that life is different after cancer.
Some common reactions to having had cancer are:
- I appreciate life more.
- I have greater self-acceptance.
- I feel more anxious about my health.
- I don’t know how to cope now that treatment is over.
What is Survivorship?
“Cancer survivorship” has at least 2 common meanings:
- Having no signs of cancer after finishing treatment.
- Living with and beyond cancer. According to this definition, cancer survivorship begins at diagnosis and includes people who continue to have treatment over the long term, to either reduce the risk of recurrence or to manage chronic disease.
Phases of Survivorship:
These three phases of survivorship describe the specific period a survivor is going through:
- Acute survivorship begins at diagnosis and goes through to the end of initial cancer treatment. Cancer treatment is the focus.
- Extended survivorship begins at the end of initial cancer treatment and goes through the surveillance months after. The effects of cancer and cancer treatment are the focus.
- Permanent survivorship is the period when years have passed since cancer treatment ended and recurrence seems less likely. Long term effects of cancer and treatment are the focus.
The increased survival rates may be due to 4 major improvements:
- Screening tests that may find cancers earlier, such as:
- Better treatments
- Improved management of side effects, which helps to keep planned treatments on schedule
- New treatments such as targeted therapyand immunotherapy
- Continued ongoing research
- Increased awareness leading to better support networks from family and friends
- Better knowledge of self-care during and after cancer treatment
- Increased advocacy from patient groups, NGOs and support groups in demanding for better health access and outcomes
Surviving cancer: What to expect
At the end of active treatment, a patient’s safety net of regular, frequent contact with the health care team ends. Survivors may experience:
- Relief that treatment is over
- Uncertainty about the future
- Loss of usual support
- Increased anxiety
- Fear of recurrence, that the cancer will come back after treatment
- Guilt about surviving, having lost friends and loved ones to cancer
- Physical, psychological, sexual or fertility problems
- Relationship struggles
- Discrimination at work
- A social network that now feels inadequate
When active treatment is over, some survivors’ needs change and relationships may shift:
- Some friends may become closer, while others distance themselves
- Families can become overprotective or may have exhausted their ability to be supportive
- Ignored relationship problems prior to cancer diagnosis can surface
What you can do:
- Realize the entire family changes from the cancer experience in ways they may not be aware of
- Work through these changes to get the support you need
- Maintain open and ongoing communication
Getting back to work
Going back to a regular work schedule is a sign of getting back to a normal routine and lifestyle. Most people need their job and the health insurance it provides.
People with cancer may:
- Work during treatment
- Take time off for treatment and return to work afterwards
- Be unable to return to workdue to the effects of the cancer or its treatment
At work, you may find that:
- Coworkers may want to help but not know how
- You are treated differently or unfairly, when compared with before cancer treatment
What you can do:
- Realize that when and how you choose to discuss a diagnosis is a personal decision
- Set the limits, if you do choose to start the conversation
- Try to anticipate questions from coworkers both during and after treatment and decide in advance how you want to answer.
NATIONAL CANCER SURVIVOR’S MESSAGES
- Mrs Enekwechi: To me survivorship simply means living with cancer, living through cancer and living beyond cancer.
- Nurse Uche Iroh: Life after cancer can be anything but ordinary.It takes bravery and strength to pull through. We celebrate our survivors and we remember those who have lost their lives in the battle. You are heroes indeed.
- Chizoba Okpala: Being a cancer survivor helped me to appraise what was important in my life. I learnt lessons in forgiveness and humility and being accepting of people. I learnt to judge people less. I learnt to appreciate the little things in life like my children’s hugs and laughter and troubles. I learnt that the things I worry so much about weren’t that important.Being a survivor drew me closer to God and opened new insights in my relationship with Him.
- Mr Emeka Onuoha: Survivorship for me means being alive to the glory of God.
- Mrs Lawal Olusola: Survivorship to me means a second chance to live a better life.
- Anonymous: To survive then would mean being given another opportunity to reappraise your life, another chance to know your purpose. It moves you from a position of fear to faith
Lakeshore Cancer Center