Life After Cancer: Finding a New ‘Normal’

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A 2016 report from the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute estimates there are more than 15.5 million cancer survivors alive in the U.S. today. By 2026, that number is expected to hit more than 20 million. Charmian Lykins, a nurse navigator with Renown Institute for Cancer, joins us to talk about the resources and care survivors need after treatment is complete.

Most cancer survival rates are higher than ever, thanks to more routine screenings and more people quitting smoking. And life after a cancer diagnosis and treatment can be full and robust with the help of a survivor care plan. We asked Charmian Lykins, a nurse navigator with the Renown Institute for Cancer, to explain more.

First off, what are some of the issues cancer survivors face after treatment?

Going through cancer treatment can be a long journey, and survivorship is yet another journey to go through. There are a lot of new “normals” for them to get used to.

Survivors can have late or long-term physical effects from their treatment, such as weight and nutrition issues, sexual health concerns, ongoing pain and trouble sleeping. They can also suffer from emotional effects of their past diagnosis and treatment, such as depression or anxiety.

There are also positives for life after cancer. Many survivors identify with the concept of “post-traumatic growth,” and find that they have found new meaning and purpose in their lives.

 

What does survivor care include? Why is it important for survivors?

Survivor care is a fairly new concept. Through survivor care, we provide resources and help clarify their after-care plan.

And I also emphasize the importance of keeping up with their follow-up appointments and doctor’s recommendations. Being proactive is really essential for survivorship. The chance of recurrence depends on the type of cancer, so it’s important to talk with them about risk of recurrence as well.

Renown Health offers cancer support groups that are open to newly diagnosed patients, patients who are currently undergoing treatment, as well as survivors and loved ones. The purpose of these support groups is to give everyone a space to share their experiences and concerns, which helps patients know they aren’t alone.

Many survivors can be anxious about their cancer coming back. What advice do you give them?

I help them focus on what’s in their control to help them prevent cancer again, which includes eating a healthy diet, exercising, not smoking and limiting alcohol intake.

The check-ups recommended by their doctor are important in making sure that they are still cancer-free as well. Since there’s no way to guarantee that a survivor will be 100 percent cancer-free for the rest of their life, it’s important to keep up with screenings and cancer prevention steps.

So what can friends and loved ones do, or maybe even avoid doing, to help after treatment?

Continue to support them and be there for them — you don’t want them to feel like you’ve left after they finished treatment.

Remember that survivors can often have lasting health effects that leave them with different energy levels and abilities than before they were diagnosed. Be patient and understand that it can take them some time to get back to being themselves.

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