When you’re going through cancer treatment, it can be hard to think about the future.
But since more than two thirds of patients today survive their cancers for at least five years, David Cranmer says, it’s important to do that right from the start.
Cranmer, 70, is a 20-year-cancer survivor from Williston, Vermont. He now advocates for fellow patients.
“Take care of yourself,” he says. “Even if you are in treatment now and you don’t feel so good, at some point you are going to get through that treatment.”
So, he advises, ask questions about what will happen then – including what new problems might pop up, and how to head them off.
“Make sure you get a survivorship care plan” before leaving your cancer care providers, he says. “Sit down and have that conversation.”
And keep a record of all the medications, radiation doses, surgeries or other therapies you received so that you can share them with other providers, he says.
That matches advice from major cancer advocacy organizations.
What does a survival plan look like?
An online tool kit available at the National Cancer Survivorship Resource Center, developed by the American Cancer Society and the George Washington Cancer Center, says survival care should include:
• Screening or watching for cancer recurrence
• Screening for other cancers
• Screening for ongoing symptoms such as fatigue, depression or anxiety
• Referrals to appropriate providers
• Help to start or maintain healthy habits, such as exercising, eating right, limiting alcohol and avoiding or quitting smoking.
The center has specific tips and checklists for survivors of breast, colorectal, head and neck, and prostate cancer.
Additional resources, including sample survivorship care planning forms, are at the cancer society’s website.
Julia Rowland is the former head of the National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Survivorship. She’s now a senior strategic adviser at the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington.
Even if you were treated for cancer many years ago, she says, it can be a good idea to seek out details from your medical records and discuss them with your providers.
“For someone who’s 20 years out, it may be a challenge to get that information,” Rowland says. “But it’s worth asking about because we get new information every day about late-occurring outcomes.”
Sharon Kellerman was treated for ovarian cancer 14 years ago. The 76-year-old Warren, Vermont, woman still gets checked for recurrences every six months. She suffers from nerve damage in her toes, linked to her treatment.
If you’re a survivor who still needs to see cancer doctors or other specialists from time to time, Kellerman says, it doesn’t mean that cancer rules your life.
Kellerman is a retired real estate broker who volunteers as a counselor for newly diagnosed patients.
She says her regular checkups and chronic nerve damage don’t stop her from enjoying life. She skis, golfs and volunteers for a local theater group.
“I think of it as, ‘I had an illness, and this is what I had to do to cure the illness and now I’m done,’ ” she says. “It’s nothing that I dwell on.”
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