Prepare for Life After a Diagnosis of Cancer

Cancer SurvivorshipAccording to the American Cancer Society, there are over 13.5 million survivors of cancer in the US today (a cancer survivor is defined as anyone from the moment of diagnosis throughout the balance of his or her life). This number is expected to significantly increase over the next 20 years due to improved early detection, improved treatment options, aging baby boomers and longer life expectancies. With longer life expectancies, cancer survivors can experience a higher burden of illness than others not diagnosed with cancer.

Few experiences in life match the feeling patients and family members have when they complete acute treatment for cancer and begin their road to survivorship. Some patients move on quickly and experience no further challenges associated with cancer, but others experience “after effects,” or long-term or late effects. Cancer survivors, and their families, should be aware of these potential after effects so they can prepare themselves to deal with them as they get back to a more normal life.

After affects can range from mild to severe and vary from survivor to survivor.

  • Long–term effects of cancer develop during cancer treatment and may not go away.  Some long-term effects can improve such as anemia, fatigue or anxiety.  Some potentially permanent long-term effects are limb loss, weakness or nerve damage.
  • Late effects are delayed effects of cancer treatment and they can surface months to years after treatment.  Some late effects of cancer treatment are heart disease, lung disease, lymphedema, osteoporosis, depression and secondary cancers.

After effects are categorized into physical, emotional and practical after effects.

Physical after effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of limbs
  • Scars
  • Pain
  • Early menopause
  • Infertility
  • Loss of limb or use of limb
  • Lymphedema
  • Impotence
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control

Emotional after effects include:

  • Body image changes
  • Sexuality changes
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Fear

Practical after effects include:

  • Difficulty working due to physical and emotional after effects
  • Changes in relationships with loved ones, friends or co–workers
  • Problems getting or retaining health or life insurance coverage
  • Challenges communicating with healthcare team members
  • Financial stressors
  • Employment discrimination

It is very important to note that not all patients experience significant after effects of cancer, but knowing about them will help you cope and may limit the severity of these after effects with  early intervention and treatment.

Talk to your care provider about the after effects you might expect with your cancer and what you possibly could experience based on your treatment regimen. Keep a record of your symptoms to discuss with the care provider and make sure to schedule screening tests and follow up exams as recommended.

About Joan Giblin, NP

Joan Giblin, Winship Cancer Institute

Joan Giblin, NP has a total of 43 years of nursing experience, 25 as a family nurse practitioner and 16 as an oncology nurse practitioner, where she is actively involved in patient care and clinical trials.  In 2011, Ms. Giblin assumed a new role as the director of the Winship Survivorship Program with primary responsibilities for developing the program as a resource for patients and a means to facilitate continued good health and quality of life for cancer survivors.  Prior to this, she was the director of the Winship Call Center, the first point of contact for new cancer patients, and was instrumental in establishing protocols and procedures to streamline access to care at Winship.

Clinical Specialties: Ms. Giblin’s experience as an oncology nurse practitioner gives her unique perspective on the needs of cancer patients and cancer survivors. As a clinical nurse practitioner, she was part of the aerodigestive team, specializing in the care of patients with lung, head and neck and throat cancers.

Research Focus: Ms. Giblin’s current research is in the area of survivorship related to long term and late effects of cancer treatment and adherence to follow up.

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