Maintaining Your Health After Cancer

by Brittany McNabb

Maintaining Your Health After Cancer

Congratulations! You have completed your treatment and you are in remission. You are done with worrying about cancer, right? Wrong! People with cancer know that while remission is a reason for celebration, cancer doesn't end when treatment is done. Cancer is unpredictable, there is no guarantee that it won't return, and some cancers include an increased risk of other health complications or the development of another type of cancer. In an effort to do everything in your power to remain healthy, it is important to be vigilant about your health and establish a survivorship care plan.

The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) report, 'From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor: Lost in Transition,' says that "Survivorship after treatment is an important phase of cancer care and that each cancer patient receive a Survivorship Care Plan—a plan for wellness to help continue to receive the best health care."

Greg Pierce, three time cancer survivor says that there are a few things he wish he had known as he was going into survivorship including the need for a survivorship care plan. 

"If I had received a survivorship care plan when I completed treatment I might have been able to avoid some complications that I have experienced. For example, my veins were damaged from radiation and chemotherapy which caused a small stroke last summer due to restricted carotid artery. If I had known this was a serious side effect I could have been getting routine ultrasounds on my neck area to check for proper blood flow along with an aspirin routine and maybe cholesterol meds. Also, specific to head and neck cancer, I didn't know I should be getting dental check ups more often; a heads up would have been nice so I could have been working early on with my local dentist...

...The basic idea I have gathered is that after getting beat down by cancer and the treatments, we are susceptible to more things going wrong than the average person, so it's important that we stay on top of our general health. I wish someone had told me that instead of the trial error that I have had to face."

What is a survivorship care plan?

All The Information From Your Doctor


A survivorship care plan is a detailed strategy set up in collaboration with your doctor that has goals to ensure quality of care for survivors as they move beyond their time of treatment. The care plan includes guidelines on monitoring and maintaining the health of the patient. In 2006 the Institute of Medicine issued a report recommending that each person with cancer have an individualized care plan as they move forward. "Every cancer survivor should have a comprehensive care summary and follow-up plan once they complete their primary cancer care that reflects their treatment and addresses a myriad of post-treatment needs to improve their health and quality of life."

What does a survivorship care plan include?

Together We Will Win Survivorship


The report addresses two over-arching elements of a survivor care plan including record of care and standard of care. Record of care means that each patient will have a record of all care they received and detailed characteristics of their disease. Standard of care means that every patient and their healthcare provider will have a written follow-up care plan including evidence-based standards of care. In simple terms, this information should include:

- Likely course of recovery
- Explanation of need for ongoing health maintenance, adjuvant therapy, and/or palliative care
- Recommended cancer screenings including when and where to get them
- Information on late and long-term effects of treatment
- Signs of recurrence and what to look out for
- Information on emotional consequences and consequences the patient may have with their partner or loved ones
- Information on possible financial and insurance repercussions
- Recommendations for healthy behaviors as the patient moves forward with their life
- Information on appropriate genetic counseling
- Referrals to follow-up care providers, counselors, and support groups
- List of other cancer resources that may be helpful and applicable to the patient

Since this report different types of care plans have developed. For more information on specific types of care plans, visit the American Cancer Society's page on survivorship care plans

Where can I find a care plan if my hospital does not give me one?

Care plans are commonly provided by your hospital or treatment center and are are filled out by or with your doctor. If they do not provide you with a care plan, visit the American Cancer Society's page on survivorship care plans for examples and resources. 

What preliminary questions might I ask my doctors about survivorship, follow-up care, and life after cancer?

Develop A Survivorship Care Plan


Here is a list of questions you may want to ask your doctor about follow-up care during long-term survivorship:

What treatments and drugs was I given thus far?

How often will I have routine doctor visits?

Which doctor will I see for follow-up cancer care?

What are my chances of recurrence? What are the chances that I will get another cancer?

What follow-up tests, if any, should I have?
 How often will I need these tests?
 Where will I go to get them?

What symptoms should I be on the look out for? If I develop any of these symptoms, whom should I call?

What are the common long-term and late side effects of treatment and/or drugs I received?

What should I do to keep up my overall health? Do you suggest any specific healthy habits?

Will I have trouble getting health insurance or keeping a job because of my cancer?
 Are there support groups I can turn to?

If you know someone who has recently completed treatment please be sure to share this article so they may be able to better prepared to deal with some of the potentially challenging realities of life after cancer.

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