The demands of the battle are so great that once the fight is over patients rarely feel jubilant about “beating” cancer. Instead they're often left blinking in bewilderment, wondering, “What just happened?”
There is life after chemo, but what that life looks like is often difficult to visualize. The medical community is starting to understand the unique challenges of surviving cancer, particularly because more people are.
More than 67% of people diagnosed with cancer today are expected to live more than five years. For many of those, cancer will be a chronic illness. The complexities these survivors have to navigate leave many of them seeking care after their care.
That is why hospitals, such as Hoag, are now offering community education programs to help survivors do more than just survive.
Cancer survivors face unique emotional struggles as they reevaluate their priorities, as well as physical struggles, such as the loss of a breast or sexual or cognitive function. Former patients find empowerment, insight and camaraderie in groups designed specifically for them.
For example, when several of our former cancer patients started sharing their concerns about the exhaustion that plagued them post-treatment, we launched Fatigue 101, an educational program about fatigue management.
Of course, our programs are not all centered on education or talk therapy. Yoga, painting and drum circle classes for survivors routinely fill up at our facilities, as survivors look for alternative avenues to heal.
Attending lectures, classes and support groups, such as the kind offered at Hoag Family Cancer Institute, can help survivors enhance their quality of life. And working with physical therapists and mental health experts along with oncologists, cancer survivors can get past the stumbling blocks they experience on the road to health.
Many people are surprised to hear that cancer survivors flock back to the hospital for these programs. But at both our Newport Beach and Irvine campuses, we find that our patients have developed such a strong bond with staff that Hoag remains a safe place to continue their journey to health.
Even five years out, our patients find meaning and joy in attending survivor programs, and I imagine the same is true at other hospitals around the world.
At 9 a.m. Jan. 16, Hoag will host a free half-day “Survivorship Symposium” and breakfast for people who went through cancer treatment at Hoag Family Cancer Institute. Each year, we host this symposium, and each year we see “alums” who are fitting the pieces back together. What they find, when they come to our survivor classes, or to the symposium, is that they are not alone in this new chapter in their lives. Support exists, and it can be incredible.
CAIT GLENN is an oncology social worker at Hoag Family Cancer Institute. Registration for the cancer survivor program is required by calling (949)722-6237.
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