When am I a survivor? Life After Cancer

Transitional Survivorship: Finding the New Normal

It's the day you have been waiting for—your cancer treatment has ended. Perhaps you celebrated in the infusion room or radiology suite. All you know is you can't wait to get back to your "real" life and put cancer behind you, a thought that comes with a nagging anxiety about leaving the medical system where you were watched closely—where everyone was focused on you getting well. What will take its place? Who is watching you now?

You may be aware of other new feelings. You really want to forget about what you have just gone through, but somehow you find yourself wanting to talk about it over and over. Or you don't want to talk about it at all.

Transition is that time when what has happened to you becomes reality. During the intensity of treatment there may not have been the opportunity to absorb the reality that cancer has become part of your life. Now is the time.

Indeed, the fact that you had cancer may not even sink in for months, and then when it does, you may experience anxiety and feelings that are hard to explain since everyone around you thought you were back to your old self.

Julia Rowland, PhD, director of the Office of Cancer Survivorship at the National Cancer Institute, says that at the same time that the patient is trying to adjust to new family roles and emotions, everything shifts again. Everyone, Rowland says, has to adjust to the "new normal."

Finding your footing, Rowland says, depends on the length of your "acute" cancer stage, meaning that the longer the cancer experience—from the first suspicious symptom to the final treatment appointment—the longer you will need to recover from the physical and emotional ripple effects.

The medical and emotional issues of transition, also referred to as re-entry, are addressed in the next section of this guide. During this time you may be cancer-free but you are not free of cancer's effects as you adjust to body changes brought on by surgery or treatment that impacted your physical and cognitive abilities. There may be chronic pain, fatigue, weight loss, or weight gain.

There is no right or wrong way to "do" survivorship, but you can be aware of the pitfalls of those who have gone before you.

Or, while your physical self may not have been significantly impacted, you may have emotional, relationship, or community issues to resolve.

Fear of recurrence, anxiety, and sleep disorders may plague cancer survivors, sometimes for years. Financial issues may impact the family—even those who have insurance. Add to that the new family dynamics for caregivers, employment stress, and other practical concerns. Without help, the aftermath of cancer treatment can be as devastating as the cancer itself.

There is no right or wrong way to "do" survivorship, but you can be aware of the pitfalls of those who have gone before you.

Each person is unique in how they navigate the stages of survivorship depending on a number of factors that may be out of your control, such as your age, family circumstances, gender, insurance coverage, and job status. If you are older, the fear of recurrence can be more difficult if there are other symptoms or conditions related to aging or to minor, unrelated illnesses that feel like recurrence but are not.

On the positive side, many survivors say that life after treatment provides an opportunity to re-examine priorities, resulting in a new awareness for survivors who choose to redirect their energy toward a different, perhaps more fulfilling, life as they move to permanent survivorship.

For a good article from Psychology Today on The New Survivors click here


Cancer Retreats

A New Beginning Cancer Retreat holds free retreats year-round in Ellston, Iowa, for cancer survivors of all ages. Family members and friends are also welcome with a charitable contribution requested. For more information, go to www.cancer-retreat.org <http://www.cancer-retreat.org/> or call 641-772-4276.

Camp Mak-A-Dream is a free camp located near Missoula, Montana, for children age 6-17 and young adults age 18-25 with cancer. Camps are held in January and each summer with adult retreats held in the fall. There is a cost for adult retreats. For more information, go to www.campdream.org <http://www.campdream.org/> or call 406-549-5987.

Camp Sunshine summer camp in Decatur, Georgia, for children with cancer is complemented by year-round programs for the rest of the family. For more information, call 404-325-7979 or go to www.mycampsunshine.com <http://www.mycampsunshine.com/welcome.htm>.

Commonweal Cancer Help Program retreats are held throughout the year near Bolinas, California. Some scholarships are available. For more information, contact Waz Thomas, program coordinator, at 415-868-0970 or go to www.commonweal.org <http://www.commonweal.org/>.

Cruising Against Cancer. Selects people with cancer and at least one guest to go on a cruise. www.cruisingagainstcancer.com

Planet Cancer
provides free weekend retreats for young adult cancer patients and survivors. The retreats are developed locally with the goal of growing a nationwide support network of young adults with cancer. For more information, call 512-481-9010 or e-mail headquarters@planetcancer.org <mailto:headquarters@planetcancer.org>.

Little Pink House of Hope. Donated beach houses provide weeklong retreats for breast cancer patients and their families.www.littlepink.org

Live by Living. Hosts free outdoor opportunities, including hikes, snowshoe outings and retreats for cancer survivors and their caregiviers. www.livebyliving.org

Send Me On Vacation. Financially disadvantaged women who have finished treatment for breast cancer are sent on vacation. www.sendmeonvacation.org

Smith Farm Cancer Help Program Retreat is a week-long retreat in Comus, Maryland, for cancer survivors (spouses are welcome) held throughout the year. Scholarships are available. For more information, go to www.smithfarm.com <http://www.smithfarm.com/> or call 202-483-8600.

Stowe Weekend of Hope. Annual weekend retreat in Vermont for cancer survivors and their families.www.stowehope.org

Sunstone Cancer Support Foundation offers numerous cancer retreats in Tucson, Arizona, year-round for cancer survivors and their families. Partial scholarships are available. For more information, go to www.sunstonehealing.net <http://www.sunstonehealing.net/> or contact Nan Rubin at 520-749-1928.

For a longer list of retreats for cancer survivors click here

DISCLAIMER

The resources and information given by our staff is NOT an endorsement of those individuals or practices. Staff members do not provide medical advice or assistance. We make every attempt to stock current, legitimate health-related materials. Opinions offered in writing or in lectures do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Gathering Place staff or Board of Trustees. We receive no fee for maintaining lists of resources and information. It is the responsibility of anyone utilizing this information to fully research the resources provided.

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