Now what? From the moment of cancer diagnosis.
Once a person is diagnosed with cancer they join the ranks of more than 120,000 adults and children in Nevada that are cancer survivors. Transitioning into treatment and then into life after treatment can seem like entering a whole new world, and not just for cancer survivors but also for their families and caregivers. It’s a challenging time and there is a lot to learn and navigate, but there are many resources to help as well.
No two people will have the same experience with cancer, but there are several things from which most survivors can benefit.
Cancer is costly. At a moment in your life when you are under stress about your health, your time, and your relationships, money can also become a stressor. It may help you to ask a friend or family member to help keep track of your costs for you, help to discuss costs with your doctor, and help to find financial assistance options.
There are several types of financial assistance available:
- Small cash grants to help cover non-medical expenses including mortgage/rent, utilities, groceries, transportation or childcare
- Medical discount programs that provide access to medical services at reduced rates for those without insurance
- Medication assistance programs that offer medications or specialty pharmacy products at low or no cost.
Some of these assistance options are limited to patients who meet financial criteria or have certain types of cancer. Search the resource directory to find financial assistance resources that can help you, or talk to your health care team about other resources that might be available.
Emotional and Mental Health
Being told “You have cancer,” changes your life in a way that you may not be prepared to cope with either emotionally or mentally. Not knowing what happens next, looking at life differently, being angry, or finding new meaning in life are all common. Give yourself permission to have these feelings and time to figure out how to adjust.
Changes you may experience can include:
- Making changes in the way you eat and the things you do
- New or different sources of support
- Permanent scars on your body
- Having difficulty or not be able to do some things you used to do
- Emotional scars from going through so much
Support groups, online peer mentoring, or counseling are all available for cancer survivors. Special exercise or rehabilitation programs can assist survivors maintain a certain level of activity during treatment or return to normal activities after treatment. Search the resource directory to find support programs and service resources that can help you, or talk to your health care team about other resources that might be available.
Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation cause many changes in the body as they remove and destroy cancer cells. One major change is that these treatments weaken your immune system. Cancer survivors who are treated with chemotherapy are more likely to get infections, such as bacterial infections, through everyday activities or from health care settings. One out of every 10 cancer survivors who receives chemotherapy gets an infection that requires a hospital visit.
If you have cancer now or have had cancer in the past, you are also at higher risk for complications from the seasonal flu or influenza, and may have a higher risk for pneumococcal disease.
You can lower your risk for infection by:
- Washing your hands often and well.
- Brushing your teeth several times a day with a soft toothbrush.
- Taking a shower or a bath every day using warm water and mild soap.
- Protecting your skin from cuts and scrapes.
- Calling your doctor or nurse if you notice wounds or signs of infection on your skin, like swelling, drainage, or redness.
To help lower your risk for the flu and pneumococcal disease:
- Get the seasonal flu shot and encourage your family and friends to get one, too.
- Ask your doctor if you need a pneumococcal shot.
- Avoid close contact with others who may be sick if you are getting chemotherapy or have a compromised immune system.
Cancer treatment may also cause short- or long-term changes to your body including restricted movement, loss of strength, and weight gain or loss. Resources for physical rehabilitation, exercise programs, and nutritional support may be available in your community.
Undergoing cancer treatment and transitioning to life after cancer or life with cancer as a chronic disease can be a stressful time. However, there are lifestyle changes you can make during or after treatment to improve your overall health and lower your risk of getting a new or second cancer.
- Avoid tobacco
- Limit alcohol use
- Avoid prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun and tanning beds
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Be physically active with at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, such as walking
- Continue a regular schedule of prevention and early detection activities with your primary care provider, such as screening for breast, cervical, or colon cancers, and managing cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure
Complementary and Integrative Medicine
Complementary medicine is treatments that are used along with standard medical treatments but are not considered to be standard treatments. One example is using acupuncture to help lessen some side effects of cancer treatment.
Alternative medicine is treatments that are used instead of standard medical treatments. One example is using a special diet to treat cancer instead of anticancer drugs that are prescribed by an oncologist.
Integrative medicine is a total approach to medical care that combines standard medicine with the complementary and alternative medicine practices that have shown to be safe and effective. They treat the patient's mind, body, and spirit.
Some complementary and alternative medicine therapies have undergone careful evaluation and are found to be safe and effective. There are others that have been found not to work and possibly even cause harm.
If you are considering complementary or alternative medicine, talk with your doctor first. Some therapies may interfere with your treatment or even be harmful. You can also ask your doctor, nurse or someone from your cancer care team to suggest a complementary or alternative medicine provider.
Treatment Summary / Follow-Up Care Plan
A treatment summary and follow up care plan, also known as a survivorship care plan, summarizes important information about your cancer and treatment.. It is a complete record of your cancer history, treatments given, future checkups and cancer tests you should receive, possible long-term or late-effects of treatment, and ideas for staying healthy. The plan also needs to identify which health care providers are responsible for your care.
Your doctor or a nurse may give you a survivorship care plan when you finish your cancer treatment, but you may also need to request one. Many health care providers may recommend you keep your cancer treatment materials in a binder or folder and bring it with you whenever you go to the doctor and share it with all of the health care professionals you see. This would include copies of lab reports, biopsy results, medications and dosages, radiation therapy summaries, a contact list for your care team, a calendar of appointments and treatments, and other resources provided to you by your cancer care team.
There are a number of resources that you can use to create your own survivorship care plan if your cancer care team does not provide one.
Health Care After Cancer Treatment
After treatment ends, follow-up care is important because it helps to identify changes in health. It can help find new or returning cancers early and look for side effects of cancer treatment. This may mean receiving more frequent cancer screenings, new screening tests or different lab work.
Consult your follow-up/survivorship care plan and talk to your cancer care team about what follow-up care you should receive, including how often. You should also ask if your follow-up care will be provided by your cancer doctor or your primary care provider.