You've Survived Cancer... Now What?

National Cancer Survivors Day is around the corner on Sunday, June 7 and it marks a day of celebration. Yet, at the same time, it can evoke so many emotions as survivors reflect on all they have experienced since being diagnosed with cancer. More so, it can also be a reminder of the uncertain journey ahead. Many survivors ask, "What will my future look like?"

Many aspects of a cancer survivor's life have been forever altered and the medical community is now more than ever is recognizing the need to provide individuals with a Cancer Survivorship Plan (CSP). In 2005, it was first recommended by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council to provide a CSP to be written by the provider that coordinated the oncology treatment.

The American Cancer Society estimates they are approximately 14.5 million people with a history of cancer living in the United States. People are living longer after a cancer diagnosis because of advances in early detection and treatment. They expect by 2024, the population of cancer survivors will increase to almost 19 million. According to Cure Magazine, as the number of survivors continues to increase, the number of oncologists can't keep pace; meaning fewer oncologists and primary care physicians will be involved with long-term follow-up care. Therefore, it means that survivors need to become their own advocates.

I have listened with so many survivors talk about the winding and often bumpy road their cancer experience takes them on. Most survivors desperately want to resume their normal routines but that isn't always easy. According to Susan Leigh, a Cancer Survivorship Consultant and Founding Member of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship said, "After a cancer diagnosis, individuals and loved ones begin a journey of survival through stages that require different choices, decisions and resources. A shift from passive patient to proactive survivor helps foster a sense of hopefulness and cautious optimism when planning for life, though and beyond cancer."

Cancer survivors often tell us there are many debilitating emotions that accompany a cancer diagnosis such as, depression, anxiety and fear of occurrence. By advocating for themselves, survivors feel more empowered to live their best life. Cancer becomes their 'wake-up' call and it's not unusual to see a cancer survivor who has changed the direction of their lives by improving relationships, volunteering, embarking on a new career or pursuing their dreams. Since we established Friends of Mel in 2006, I've been amazed to see how many cancer survivors have founded non-profit organizations and many others that choose to volunteer - through that process cancer becomes secondary and giving back becomes their passion.