The good news is that there are about 17 million cancer survivors alive today in the United States. Better yet is the fact that there are so many long-term survivors (5 years or more after treatment). While some are able to manage the uncertainties and challenges of life brought on by cancer fairly well, for others the impacts on their physical, emotional, or even financial well-being are felt throughout survivorship.
It’s never too late to ask for help or seek ongoing support to ease cancer’s lingering burdens and improve one’s quality of life
Survivors are often aware they might experience a few long-term physical side effects of cancer after treatment ends, but not all understand that the main types of treatment can also cause “late effects” that may not appear until months or years later. Long-term survivors can also experience other health conditions due to the treatment received, including an increased risk for other cancers.
Knowing all the cancer treatment (s) (type/duration/dose) you received and its potential effects on your health is important. This is where having a Treatment Summary and Survivorship Care Plan comes in especially handy. It will summarize for you and your other healthcare providers (PCP and other specialists) details about your cancer diagnosis, the treatment you received (and continue to receive, if applicable) and the plan for future follow up care and monitoring for late/long- term treatment side effects, recurrence, etc. It considers the needs of the whole person.
If you did not receive this document from your oncology care team, you can request one or create one for yourself with information they provide to you. See additional resources below for more information.
Even for long-term survivors, anxiety can persist for many years after treatment. Often the anxiety centers around one or more of the following:
- fear of a recurrence or second cancer
- coping with other ongoing health needs and/or any long-term and late-effects of cancer treatment
- the lingering burden of cancer’s impact on household finances
- the continued strain on relationships, struggles with body image, difficulties around intimacy and sexuality.
Support groups, one-on-one counseling, exercise, relaxation techniques and other complementary and integrative therapies like yoga, tai chi, meditation, and many more, can help to manage the worry and stress and refocus one’s attention.
Some survivors experience severe anxiety, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or continued depression that significantly disrupts their lives. It is important to speak to your healthcare team and work together to find the best treatment possible for your needs.
Remember that you are not alone. No matter the degree of discomfort or distress, reach out for support so you can heal and find the joy in life you deserve.
Whether cancer treatment ends or transitions to maintenance therapy, the healthcare costs for follow-up care and late and long-term effects of treatment can be substantial, creating a burden that can be difficult for long-term survivors to overcome. Even with “good” private health insurance that adequately covers cancer treatment, the toll on one’s overall finances can have lasting effects on their lifestyle, future earning potential, and household assets. A loss of income due to the patient’s and/or other household member’s reduced or inability to work – whether temporary or permanent – can create a financial strain. Serious, unresolved financial hardship can make it difficult for survivors to maintain a consistent standard of living. Large amounts of debt can accumulate over time. Filing for bankruptcy due to medical debt is not uncommon for long-term survivors many years after their cancer diagnosis.
If you are receiving extended cancer treatment and feeling the strain of the out-of-pocket costs of your care, share your concerns with your healthcare team and inquire about your options for care and other community resources available to provide some support.
Links to Additional Resources:
Coping Magazine Survivors Guide
American Society of Clinical Oncologists Survivorship
Cancer Support Community Long-Term Health Concerns
Late effects of cancer treatment
Survivorship Care Plans: Life After Cancer
Survivorship Care Plans: During and After Treatment