By: Lisa C.S. Rootvik, ARNP, Survivorship Clinic Nurse Practitioner
Cancer survivors are often surprised by how difficult the transition to life after cancer can be. Among other challenges, survivors may be experiencing new physical, mental, and financial obstacles that were not present prior to the diagnosis of cancer.Cancer survivors are often surprised by how difficult the transition to life after cancer can be. Among other challenges, survivors may be experiencing new physical, mental, and financial obstacles that were not present prior to the diagnosis of cancer.
Each day at the Survivorship Clinic, my goal is for patients to leave their appointment feeling more empowered to move past their cancer diagnosis and to care for their new post-cancer selves. To do this, there are three components that each survivor, regardless of diagnosis, should have addressed. I call it The Survivorship Equation.
The Survivorship EquationUnderstanding the past + Assessment of the present + Education for the future = Empowerment to move past cancer + Knowledge to be a health care advocate.
- Understanding the past. Each patient should have a solid understanding of their diagnosis, including pathology and clinical indicators that influenced treatment decisions along the way. They should have a copy of their genetic testing results, and understand the implications of those results. They should have listed, in an easy to read format, a summary of the treatment they received for their cancer including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
- Assessment of the present. Each patient should have an opportunity to explore the side effects from treatment that they are currently experiencing. In breast cancer patients, physical side effects may include discomfort or pain at the surgical site, fatigue, peripheral neuropathy (numbness, tingling or pain) of the hands or feet, lymphedema (swelling of the chest wall or arm due to surgery or radiation), and vaginal dryness. The mental effects from treatment may include anxiety, depression, worries about recurrence as well as changes in body image, and sexuality. Understanding why certain symptoms are occurring, how long they may last, and what can be done to manage them can improve quality of life and ease patients’ minds.
- Education for the future. I believe that cancer survivors can be their own best advocates for their health care after cancer treatment. Ensuring that patients understand what symptoms to report, what tests to receive, how often to be seen by their providers and how to implement wellness routines into their lives gives patients a roadmap for moving forward to help them navigate their way.
The Survivorship Equation is just the first step toward building a new life after cancer. There will be continued effort required by cancer survivors as they get accustomed to who they are after cancer and work toward improved wellness. During this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I would like to extend the warmest congratulations to our local breast cancer survivors who are working hard every day to create healthy and happy lives after cancer treatment. The doors at the TCCC Survivorship Clinic are always open to you (and all other survivors) if you need some additional help and support putting together the pieces of your Survivorship Equation or improving wellness after cancer.
For more information, please contact the Survivorship Clinic at (509) 737-3442.