Sunday, June 7, 2009 is the 22nd Annual National Cancer Survivors Day. It is a health observance held annually every first Sunday of June. It is a symbolic event to demonstrate that life after a cancer diagnosis can be a reality. To commemorate this day, let us a look at a very important, yet often taken for granted aspect of life after cancer treatment.
When one is faced with a diagnosis of cancer, then the first thing that comes to mind is get rid of it, no matter what it takes. The main objective of doctors as well as patients, is to beat the disease, drive the cancer out with all the means available to man. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy – these are some of the treatments currently used against cancer. Nobody dares to think about life beyond cancer treatment.
But surviving cancer comes with a price. The therapies and treatments come with side effects that can cause other health problems. And in many cases, survivors are not prepared for these. Examples of these postcancer treatment problems (aside from hair loss and nausea) are:
- Breast cancer patients who have taken the chemo drug Adriamycin, for example, can later develop heart problems.
- People who have had surgery risk lymphedema, which causes tissue swelling, even years later.
- Cancer treatment can cause sexual and fertility problems.
- Cancer is likely to come back.
- Radiation therapy can cause blood vessel damage.
- Chemotherapy can affect the brain, e.g. the so-called “chemo brain.”
According to Dr. James Metz, a Penn radiation oncologist
There is a need for patients to be informed of the long-term health consequences of life-saving treatments. That’s where OncoLink may be able to help, a computerized survivorship program which can create individualized treatment plans for survivors. The platform was set up by the Abramson Cancer Center of the Pennsylvania Medical Center. Patients can type in information about their cancer and treatments. The program generates a report outlining medical tests they should receive, possible side effects of their treatments, and what they can do to keep cancer at bay.
Onoclink is free and user-friendly. It has recently received financial support from the Lance Armstrong Foundation to create an individualized plan of care for those who survived cancer. The plan is based on recommendations of the Institute of Medicine. The site gives invaluable information to patients and survivors about the health risks of the therapy they had or they are on.
There is life after cancer. Know what to expect.