You're a Cancer Survivor: Now What?

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Diagnosis of cancer can often permeate all aspects of a person's life. Your normal daily routine can suddenly be replaced by an exhausting whirlwind of doctors' appointments, treatments, tests, visitors, medications and insurance red tape.

With all the focus and energy you've placed on cancer treatment, you probably never spent much time thinking about what you will do next. How do you go back to “normal” when clearly some things – maybe even all things – are different? How do you handle fears of recurrence, and changes you may experience physically, cognitively, emotionally and socially?

With 12 million Americans now living their lives as cancer survivors, these are challenging and powerful questions that more people are dealing with. What follows are a just a few suggestions on how to help you and your loved ones thrive through cancer and beyond.

Tips for cancer survivors
• Have a plan. Ask your oncologist or medical team to compile a Survivorship Care Plan, a complete summary of your cancer care and a specific plan for follow-up care. The plan should include detailed information about your diagnosis and lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise. Having such a plan can dramatically simplify and improve your future medical care and improve your quality of life.
• Get educated. Having the knowledge to better manage your health through and beyond treatment can be empowering. Look for cancer survivorship education programs in your community that cover topics such as intimacy and sexual health after cancer, healthy eating and managing side effects, and symptoms and fears of recurrence.
• Find support. Your emotional, psychological and social issues can be just as stressful, if not more, than cancer treatment itself. For many, taking part in support groups can normalize the experience and transform what often can be an isolating experience into a community of hope and understanding.
• Manage stress. Cancer can often have a dramatic impact on a person's physical, psychological and social well-being. Finding ways to manage and reduce stress through mind/body techniques such as meditation, reiki, counseling or yoga can be extremely helpful.
• Care for caregivers. Caregivers and loved ones need support too as they are coping with their own feelings, anxieties and stressors. Taking part in caregiver education and support programs can provide them with greater resources and information, and can enable them to better balance self-care with their ongoing compassionate care.

These are just a few suggestions to help educate, inform and empower you to better manage your health and enhance your quality of life as a cancer survivor.
– Linda Maerov is a licensed clinical social worker for Hoag Family Cancer Institute and is a contributor to Hoag's monthly Cancer Survivorship Education Series.