You’ve endured chemotherapy, radiation treatment, perhaps surgery. Then, your doctor says these wonderful words: “You’re cancer-free!”
"Surviving cancer can be an emotional roller coaster for many people, as they attempt to navigate the 'new normal' of their lives," explains Kenneth Miller, M.D., an oncologist in the Alvin and Lois Lapidus Cancer Institute at LifeBridge Health and an expert in cancer survivorship.
"After a patient completes treatment, it is as important as ever that they continue the integral self-care practices that helped them overcome cancer in the first place. This means taking good care of themselves, getting exercise, eating well, seeking support when needed and keeping an open dialog with their medical team.
"Cancer survivors can experience some post-traumatic stress after treatment but also post-traumatic personal growth. Cancer can be an unexpected springboard to personal growth."
Here are steps you can take in the days ahead:
Manage Your Side Effects
Almost any therapy for cancer can have side effects. While some fade after a few weeks or months, others endure far longer. You might feel tired, gain or lose weight, or have a hard time concentrating or sleeping. Discuss any problems with your health care team.
Schedule Follow-Up Care
Regular visits help your doctor keep tabs on your health. He or she will watch for signs your cancer has returned and for long-term side effects from your treatment. Ask your doctor how often, and who, you should see.
Be Aware of Your Body
Between visits, take note of how you feel and any changes to your body. Share your observations at your next appointment. Ask your doctor if there are specific warning signs that require an urgent call such as pain, bleeding or digestive issues.
Make a Plan
Talk with your doctor about healthy changes you can make to your lifestyle. Though you might need more rest than before, you should also ask about starting an exercise program. Several studies show physical activity reduces the risk for cancer recurrence and lengthens survivors’ lives.
Changing your diet may also help keep you cancer-free. Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and include beans in your diet. They contain phytochemicals, plant-based nutrients that protect your cells from disease.
Cope with Your Emotions
Most survivors worry their cancer will return, and some may experience depression. Talk with your health care team about your feelings. Focus on things in your control, such as taking an active role in your follow-up care and getting a good balance of rest and exercise.
Learn more about cancer survivorship programs and services at LifeBridge Health.
To schedule an appointment with one of our highly trained physicians and find out why LifeBridge Health is Baltimore's premier health care organization, call 410-601-WELL.