At one time, in the recent past, a cancer diagnosis was a guaranteed death sentence. Thanks to advances in medical treatment and earlier detection, this in no longer the case. According to statistics from the America Cancer Society there were 14.5 million cancer survivors in 2014. That number is estimated to grow to 19 million by 2024.
The transition from cancer patient to cancer survivor is harder than many can imagine. It would seem there would be nothing but happiness to be alive and to have beaten this horrible disease. But this is not the case. Surviving cancer brings a new set of challenges.
The first hurdle is the physical changes in the body. Treatment of cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation and all of these are hard on the physical body.
Chemotherapy includes many side-effects. Most go away after treatment is stopped but some of them are long-term.
These can include:
- Memory loss
- Pain in joints
- Damage to organs including heart, liver, and kidneys
- Sexual problems
- The side effects of radiation can include:
- Dry mouth and sores
- Skin problems
- Fibrosis or scarring of the lungs
Luckily, there are now medical precautions taken to prevent many of these side-effects from becoming long-term. Unfortunately, some still linger. Follow your doctor’s instruction on how to deal with these ongoing physical issues. Get your routine check-ups as recommended.
Emotional challenges that face cancer survivors.
One of the biggest fears of cancer survivors is the concern that the cancer will recur. Some say this makes them feel like a walking time bomb. They must return for check-ups and screenings on a regular basis. Though this is necessary, it often brings feelings of anxiety and fear.
A few things you can do to after your battle with cancer:
Give yourself time to heal. Don’t try to immediately return to all your previous activities. Your body needs time to rest and adjust.
Spiritual help – this obviously isn’t for everyone. But some people find connecting with a church a great source of comfort. Others read spiritual texts or learn to meditate. This is a personal choice but it has helped many on their road to recovery.
Find a support group so you can share your concerns with other survivors. Knowing you’re not alone in the struggle can be a comfort. If you can’t locate a local group, you can connect with others in a Facebook group or in an online forum. Search “cancer survivor groups” to see what you can find.
Seek professional help if you feel you’re falling into a depression. A counselor who is trained to work with cancer survivors and understands survivor’s guilt can help you work through this challenging time. If you do not feel comfortable talking to a counselor you can start by talking to a nurse or cna. They do not have the training of a counselor but can still help you to move in the right direction and help you feel comfortable talking to others about your feelings.
There is no shame or embarrassment in seeking help when it’s needed. In the same way you sought medical treatment for cancer, you must seek help for emotional healing when it is needed.
Your local chapter of the American Cancer Society or the National Cancer institute can help connect you to the resources in your area.