One of the most exciting things in oncology is the vast improvement in survivor rates over the past few decades. It’s led to a whole new phase of the cancer journey called survivorship. Learn what survivorship is and how you can develop a Survivor Care Plan.
Cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence anymore. For many, life after cancer can be a long and fulfilling one. However, because people are now surviving cancer, a whole new phase of the cancer journey has become the buzzword in cancer care: SURVIVORSHIP. What is survivorship? It is the phase after treatment, and encompasses the physical, psychosocial, and economic issues of cancer that may continue to impact you throughout the rest of your life.
During the survivorship phase, there are numerous issues you might face, including such things as long term side effects of treatment, depression, survivor guilt, fear of recurrence, the long term financial impact of a serious illness, residual medical bills, legal and employment concerns, and post treatment disabilities. If you feel unprepared for all of these issues, despite hearing the words “you are now cancer free,” you are not alone. Millions of cancer survivors in the United States, as well as their primary care physicians, find that the health care system is ill prepared for their medical concerns post treatment, not to mention the emotional and financial ones.
Here are some common questions:
- How do I know if my cancer has recurred?
- How often should I have screenings, and what screenings should I have?
- Is this symptom normal? Will it get better?
- What is my “new normal,” the state of my health after cancer?
- Who will order the tests and screenings that I need?
- Who will drive my care now that I’m done with treatment? Will my medical oncologist continue to do so, or will much of my health care return to my primary care doctor?
- What are my employment rights after cancer?
When it comes to these types of concerns, a Survivor Care Plan (SCP) can be a tremendous help. The SCP will summarize your cancer diagnosis and treatment, what to watch for in the future, as well as what screenings are usually done and by whom. The SCP seeks to clarify the roles of your providers moving forward, while providing you with all of the information about your cancer diagnosis and treatment in one document. A quality SCP should also include some resources for employment or financial issues, or at the very least, a contact person for you should these types of concerns arise, such as a Cancer Nurse Navigator.
Mercy Cancer Center now provides SCPs to all patients completing curative treatment at Mercy. Many accredited cancer centers are beginning to provide SCPs to some or all of their patients completing curative treatment. What if you had a cancer before the SCP was in place? It is recommended that you keep a record of all treatment that you had for your cancer in one place, so that should you change doctors, they will have a record of your treatment. Most medical and radiation oncology offices will provide you with a treatment summary at the end of treatment and upon request.
If you would like a basic care plan, you can create one for yourself using an online tool like the one found at www.oncolink.org. It is very simple to complete, and will generate a basic SCP. If you have general questions about your ongoing emotional, psychological, or other practical needs, you can always contact one of Mercy’s Cancer Nurse Navigators at 330-430-2788 for further assistance.