Remission, no evidence of disease, a clean scan, all signs that a cancer patient is ready to turn the page on what may be the toughest chapter in their life. Learning to face life again is a very important step in cancer treatment. And while the patient is the one writing his/her own story, they will never be alone on their journey thanks to a lady whose mission is to show these patients what survivorship is all about.
“My job is to serve as the anchor for each cancer patient in the Georgia Cancer Center’s Survivorship Program,” said Catrena Santana, coordinator for the Survivorship Program. “The care plan they receive is designed to help them sleep a little easier at night. We know a cancer diagnosis changes the patient’s life.”
Patients with Stages 1 through 3 are eligible for the Survivorship Program. Santana meets with the cancer patient at their six-month follow-up appointment. These patients receive a summary of treatments, medications, test results and a list of contacts, in case there are concerns after treatment. Also included in the plan are dates for follow-up visits for bone scans, PET scans, mammograms, etc.
“Patients can get overwhelmed with the amount of information their doctor is telling them on top of dealing with their cancer diagnosis,” Santana said. “They can share their care plan with a family member, a friend or their primary care doctor to make sure they understand any lifestyle changes they need to make after treatment.”
While the cancer patient is the one who went through chemotherapy, radiation, surgery or some combination of all three, there are responsibilities for each person in their support circle. Sometimes family members and friends feel a big responsibility to know all they can about the cancer diagnosis. In fact, they’ll use internet resources to understand what the patient went through and what support they’ll need now that their treatment has ended.
Also included in the care plan are several topics including, living a healthy lifestyle, how to handle emotional needs after treatment, and long-term effects of medications taken during treatment.
Survivors must safeguard their health as never before. In addition to their post-cancer treatment plan, patients should remember:
- Regular checkups. Keep your primary care and follow up appointments religiously.
- Alertness. Know the warning signs of cancer’s return, and report any suspicious symptoms to your doctor immediately.
- Vigilance. Get regularly scheduled screenings for other cancers — not just the one you survived.
- Acceptance. Accept changes, especially those affecting diet, weight, and sleep.
- Motion. Exercise if possible. Ask your doctor for guidelines.
Even after you’ve survived cancer, it’s common to still feel anger, grief or fear. Discuss your emotions with loved ones, counselors, friends and other survivors. Releasing anxiety lets you come to grips with survival and helps loved ones be more supportive. Other practical ideas include:
- Survive one day at a time. As you do, your emotional upheaval will subside.
- Recognize signs of survivor stress. Set priorities and do things you enjoy, but pace yourself, too.
- Know when to say “no” to others and to yourself.
- Live like a survivor, not a shut-in. Attend support meetings, worship services, or health lectures.
- Rediscover intimacy. If your love life presents challenges, discuss them with your doctor or counselor.
“I love meeting with these patients,” Santana said. “I’ve gotten lots of hugs, some tears of joy, and a lot of smiles. It makes me feel great and like I’ve done my job well.”