Survivorship in Cancer Care
Cancer affects thousands of people in India every year. A large section of the population successfully complete the treatment becoming ‘survivors’ to the illness they once were diagnosed with. Many people acknowledge the support and care they received during their treatment, but once it ends, they find the transition to a newer life much more difficult. It feels like an unforeseen task where you have to make adjustment to new scenarios and deal with changed emotions and feelings.
Having a history of cancer and living with that experience varies from one person to another. However, many believe that life for them, in some way or the other is different post cancer. ‘I appreciate my new life and value myself much more’, ‘I’ve become closer to my family post my treatment’, ‘I’m more scared about my health now’, ‘What if it comes back’, ‘I don’t know how to proceed with life once treatment ends’ are some of the many thoughts and concerns cancer survivors verbalise.
The After Effects
Once the treatment for cancer is over, individuals often report various physical and psychological changes that they begin to experience. Apart from the relief of the treatment ending, there’s also a certain amount of uncertainty and apprehension about one’s future and recurrence of the illness. It leads to fear and anxiety that the cancer may come back.
Cancer treatment can cause late side effects that may not surface for six months to one year. Many people report late external and internal physical changes such as persistent fatigue, sexual or infertility concerns, skin pigmentation, visual and hearing changes, breathing difficulties and so on. However, it’s important to note that no two individuals undergo the same changes. It’s important not to compare yourself with another patient, instead focus on your own self.
Impact on Relationships
When the treatment ends, families and friends of the individual do not always understand that the recovery will take some time. Many times, it may take longer than the treatment itself. The healing for both the survivor and their loved ones is not just physical, but also emotional. Many survivors and their families seem to be in a hurry to ‘recover’ often leading to conflicts and miscommunication.
It is very important for family members to realise and understand that their family patterns, structures, roles and responsibilities have drastically changed or shifted. Here, both the survivors and their families are required to help each other to cope with these transitions further strengthening their bonds.
Many survivors share their experiences of the changing expectations of their families pre- treatment in terms of house, financial and professional roles and responsibilities. Other times, you as a survivor may expect the same kind of care and support from your family and friends that you received during your hospital visits. Not having your expectations met, you might find yourself disappointed and frustrated. There may be times where you may need to be dependent on others, often leading to lowered self confidence and unreasonable demands.
Help each other understand your needs and capabilities. Be honest to children and teens about your diagnosis and treatment and keep them informed. This opens healthy communication channels helping them to have realistic expectations and empathy during emotional outbursts and adjustments.
Impact at Workplace
Continuing with your office, business or professional engagements during treatment is very normal for patients. Some individuals take time off during their treatment to regain their physical strength. However, many times you might be treated differently at your workplace, with colleagues’ unwanted attention and curiosity, going out of their way to help you, discrimination due to physical health, and comparisons to your previous performance. Such over involvement and interference may create awkwardness and discomfort. You have every right to set boundaries and choose to speak or not as per your will. Try to anticipate questions and statements from your colleagues and higher authorities, and prepare your answers in advance.
Some of the important changes you could consider post treatment are-
* Quit smoking- Smoking causes an increase in cancer and could also lead to a recurrence on the same or different site.
* Avoid alcohol intake- Alcohol consumption increases vulnerability to certain cancers.
* Eat well- Talk to your nutritionist and doctor to eat the right kind of food. Healthy eating healthy reduces your chances of cancer or recurrence.
* Stay Active- Exercise and relaxation can help you stay alert and healthy. The risk for recurrence of cancer is lowered and can lead to longer survival. Activities such as running, swimming, and yoga can improve your mood and reduces fatigue and lethargy.
* Recreation- Keeping yourself engaged can help your mind stay occupied and keeps negative thoughts aside.
* Have ‘Me Time’- Do not forget to give adequate attention to yourself and your needs because the most important person here is ‘YOU’!
* Social Support- Do not hesitate to reach out for help and support from friends and family.
The After Care
Last but not the least, always remember to go for regular medical checkups to the doctor, because like they say, ‘prevention is better than cure’. Make an effort to be aware of your symptoms (physical, mental and psychological), do not hesitate to educate yourself about the illness and also encourage your family members to seek regular checkups.