Survivorship: Cancer is Forever

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • The Cancer Support Community (CSC), a global project seeking to understand the needs and challenges of cancer survivors, issued a press release this morning summarizing data collected from over 1,000 breast cancer survivors.
    Not surprisingly, that data shows that breast cancer survivors face lasting physical and emotional challenges as a result of their cancer and its treatment.

    If you’re a survivor, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Well, DUH. Of course. What did they expect? Life is tough after cancer…”

    Fact is, the vast majority of people who’ve never had cancer believe it’s like most other health challenges. Say, the flu. Or maybe a broken leg.

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    You’re treated; your body heals; you get over it.

    But here’s something all of us survivors know: you never get over it. Cancer lives with you (literally, or figuratively) for the rest of your life – however long you live.

    I was diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago. I finished treatment just over a year ago. And every morning when I wake up, I’m reminded yet again that I’ve had cancer.

    My painfully burning eyes won’t let me forget the experience. Thanks, chemotherapy.

    I roll over, and feel a sharp pain in my ribs. Thanks, radiation.

    I log onto my computer… and try to remember why. Chemo-brain has robbed me of vocabulary, memory and, sometimes, even reason. Thanks again, chemo.

    Is it any wonder the CSC showed survivors with higher levels of depression than the overall population, among other issues?

    As survivors, we’re caught between wanting to vent about these ongoing issues – and wanting to shut up and put it all behind us.

    We’ve faced death, and beaten it; we’ve been called brave, strong, a REAL SURVIVOR. So how can we disappoint family and friends, who so admire us, by whining about pain, fear, memory problems, tingling feet, and thinning hair?

    We can’t. So we soldier on. Wishing we had even a semblance of our old body back; envying those around us who go through an entire day pain-free.

    Don’t get me wrong; I thank God every day that I’m still here. I’ve lived to see my son grow up, my mom grow old, my friends and relatives mark happy milestones in their lives.

    And most of the time, cancer lives in a small, dark corner of my mind. I don’t worry about it as I work a spreadsheet, shop for groceries, wade knee-deep in a pond still blessed with the last warmth of summer.

    But it’s there. Cancer has no endpoint. It’s with me for life – until I die of something else.

    Thankfully, more and more members of the medical community are realizing that cancer is a lifelong condition. And survivorship programs, which began to emerge onto the national scene in 2005, are ever-so-gradually becoming an established part of cancer treatment.

    At long last, the never-ending challenge of cancer is being validated. And we, the survivors, can feel a bit less guilty about complaining.

    Are you a survivor who’s finished treatment? Wondering what comes next, and how to get on with your radically changed life? Explore your options at HealthCentral’s breast cancer survivorship resource center.

  • And, to share your experience with researchers continuing to collect survivorship data, join The Breast Cancer M.A.P. (Mind Affects the Physical) Project. 

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Published On: October 11, 2011