Life After Breast Cancer Treatment

PJ Hamel Health Guide November 02, 2007
  • If you’ve finished your active treatment for breast cancer, I can almost guarantee you had a very strange reaction when you walked out of that radiation room or infusion suite for the last time. Instead of feeling unmitigated relief, I’m betting you were a little bit scared–right?

     

    You thought to yourself, “What, that’s it, they’re just sending me home? But… Who’s going to take care of me now?” Then, guilt kicking in, you told yourself to shape up and get on with your life. And you walked out into your brave new post-cancer world accompanied by a secret little fear, deep inside, that after all these months the medical community was done with you, and you were ON YOUR OWN–yikes!


    For years, oncologists and cancer researchers have concentrated on improving active medical care. Which makes sense; first, you have to save the patient. Now, however, there’s a growing movement to ensure that cancer survivors continue to receive treatment, after surgery and radiation and chemo, that’s as careful and personalized as what they received in the months following their diagnosis.

    According to “A Post-Treatment Prescription,” an article in the “2007 Cancer Resource Guide,” published by Cure magazine in conjunction with the American Cancer Society, there are now 10 million cancer survivors in the United States, about 2.4 million of whom are breast cancer survivors.

     

    “Experts suggest that [cancer survivorship] may soon become its own medical specialty, like podiatry or geriatrics,” notes the article’s author, Curtis Pesmen. And in my book, that day can’t come too soon.

    Personally, the five years since I finished breast cancer treatment have been… well, confusing. At first, I saw my oncologist and my surgeon every six months, on a staggered schedule, so I was seeing one or the other every 3 months. Soon enough, though, due to scheduling issues, that schedule wasn’t so staggered, and it was more like seeing both the oncologist AND the surgeon within weeks of one another, every six months–an unnecessary redundancy of time and effort on all our parts.

    Like many companies these days, the business I work for frantically jumps from one insurance carrier to another every year, in an attempt to find the best health insurance for the lowest prices. In addition, the teaching hospital at which I receive care seems to have a rotating staff of interns and doctors who take turns being primary care physicians (PCPs), often leaving precipitously for a new job or different specialty. Between that and each insurance company’s list of approved PCPs, I almost never see the same primary care doctor twice. So each time I go in for a yearly physical, I’m meeting a new doctor–one who knows nothing about my medical history.

     

    One doctor was surprised when I told her I’d had cancer, despite the 6”-thick stack of records she held in her hands. Another insisted I didn’t need a certain test, while my oncologist said I did; they ended up duking it out behind the scenes. The point is, me, my PCP, and my medical records are never on the same page.


  • That’s where the growing initiative for a “survivorship prescription plan” comes in. As the article in Cure notes, “No template exists for surviving cancer, so after treatment ends, many survivors go home without an understanding of what’s next. But some oncologists have stepped up and are pushing for a survivorship prescription for every person diagnosed with cancer.”


    Are you a bit confused, perhaps a little uneasy, about the care you’ve received in the months or years succeeding active treatment? If so, a “survivorship prescription” might be just what you need.

     

    This is Part One of a four-part series on cancer survivorship.

     

    Coming up next... Moving from Patient to Survivor: Smoothing the Transition