National Cancer Survivors Day: June 3, 2018
Today is National Cancer Survivors Day, and I’d to extend support and love to our Circle+Bloom community members, friends and loved ones who are struggling with this beast.
Several years ago, one of my dearest friends was diagnosed with rectal cancer. At one point, my friend Colleen told me: “Joanne, sometimes it feels like I’ve lost all control over everything – my life and even my own body.”
Cancer is life-altering — at the beginning, with the diagnosis, and during treatment when uncertainty, fear, and medical side effects can change everything about the way you feel in your body, what you’re capable of doing, and every moment of your day-to-day life.
But one of the things that isn’t as openly discussed, and can take many people by surprise, is the difficulty and turmoil that come up after treatment is finished. If you haven’t experienced a cancer diagnosis, you might expect that completing treatment feels like a relief. Like freedom from the disease. And it can. But cancer survivors also struggle with fear of a recurrence, questioning of what their life should be after cancer, and uncertainty about what comes next.
On the first Sunday in June, National Cancer Survivors Day is held to draw attention to the ongoing challenges of cancer survivorship and to promote more resources, research, and survivor-friendly legislation to improve cancer survivors’ quality of life.
“The Effects of Cancer Don’t Simply End When Treatment Does.”
The National Cancer Survivors Foundation explains the physical, emotional, and financial tolls that cancer survivors often experience for years after diagnosis and treatment:
- Denial of health insurance and life insurance coverage
- Difficulty finding jobs
- Economic burdens due to mounting medical expenses, lost wages, and reduced productivity
- Strains on personal relationships
- A profound fear of cancer recurrence
When someone experiences a cancer diagnosis and undergoes treatment, often they are quickly surrounded with support from family, friends, and their community. But once treatment ends, it can be difficult to simply return to their old way of life. Often there is a “new normal” that can include different dietary needs, different sources of support, new scars on your body, emotional effects, and other physical changes like muscle weakness.
After treatment is finished, fearing that the cancer could return can be intense. There can be a loss of trust in the body’s health. As time passes without a recurrence, this fear often dissipates slowly on its own. But there are many ways that cancer survivors can actively calm their fears and refocus their energy on their health and wellness.
Retake Control of Your Life After Cancer
Living with uncertainty is never easy. Fear and anxiety are normal following cancer treatment, but they don’t need to take over your life. You have the power to take control.
Here are a few ideas to help rebuild your healthy mind and body:
- Accept your emotions and fears. Accept that you are going to experience some fear, and that it may temporarily increase at specific times like follow-up appointments, the anniversary of your diagnosis, or someone else’s cancer diagnosis. It is okay and completely normal; you don’t need to make your negative feelings go away.
- Talk about it. Share your feelings with friends and family. Talking out loud about your concerns (or writing them down) may help you better understand where your fears are coming from, and put them into perspective.
- Join a support group. Spending time with others who have gone through a similar experience can give relief that you’re not alone, and can offer helpful information and advice. The National Cancer Institute and CancerCare.org both offer links to a large number of support groups that meet online, by phone, or in-person.
- Manage stress with meditation and mindfulness. Actively focusing on reducing your stress and managing your anxiety and fears can make a huge, positive difference in your daily life.
My friend Colleen used Circle+Bloom’s “Healing From Cancer” guided meditation and visualization program to help her relax and focus on healing. In her words:
“The overwhelming feeling completely changed for me when I began listening to the Circle + Bloom Cancer program. The visualizations helped me to both relax and focus on the positive aspects of the treatments. For example, instead of viewing chemotherapy as a medicine that would make me sick or lose my hair, I began to see it as a “positive force” that was going to help my body beat cancer and heal.
I suddenly felt empowered – that I could help myself during this process. What an amazing feeling that was to realize that my attitude and my actions made a difference in the treatment of my cancer. As a result, I was able to get through my treatments with minimal side effects.
Another of the amazing benefits I found from listening to the program, was the effect it had on me even in the moments when I wasn’t listening. There were many times, while I was receiving treatments or not feeling my best, when I would find myself bringing to mind certain visualizations or instructions from the program. I was able to relax and focus on these images and help bring myself to a better, calmer place. ”
- Be informed about your health by communicating with your medical team. Although no one can tell you exactly what will happen in the future, healthcare professionals who know your medical history can tell you about the chances of the cancer returning, and what symptoms to look for. Knowing what to expect and what your follow-up plan is may help minimize your fears of recurrence. The American Society of Clinical Oncology offers survivorship care information for many different cancer types.
- How long will it take for me to get better and feel more like myself?
- What kind of care should I expect after my treatment?
- What long-term health issues can I expect as a result of my cancer and its treatment?
- What is the chance that my cancer will return?
- What symptoms should I tell you about?
- What can I do to be as healthy as possible?
- Which doctor(s) should I see for my follow-up care? How often?
- What tests do I need after treatment is over? How often will I have the tests?
- What records do I need to keep about my treatment?
- Can you suggest a support group that might help me?
Some questions from the National Cancer Institute that you may want to ask your doctor about follow-up care include:
- Exercise. Moderate exercise that you enjoy can help reduce anxiety and depression, and help you feel more in-control of your health. It also may improve your mood and boost your self-esteem.
- Eat healthy, nutritious foods. A dietician or nutritionist can help you learn about the foods that can support your long-term health and strength.
- Focus on other people. How can you be helpful to someone else? Whether that means giving your support to a friend or neighbor, volunteering your time and energy to help with a charity or non-profit, or becoming more active in your community, turning your focus on others can help you feel better about yourself.
- Have fun. Take part in clubs, classes, or social gatherings. Do something that makes you feel joyful and passionate. Start a new hobby, or travel somewhere new. Take a new look at the positive opportunities in your life, and make the most of them.
Resources for Cancer Survivors
To make it easier, there are several wonderful resources out there to support and offer information to cancer survivors.
- Cancer Survival Toolbox: The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship developed this free audio program in partnership with leading cancer organizations to help people take a more active role in their cancer care. Each topic is inspired by stories from real cancer patients. The section “Living Beyond Cancer” is particularly relevant for cancer survivors.
- Post-Treatment Survivorship Information: CancerCare.org provides free, professional support services, resources, and information for people who have completed cancer treatment, as well as post-treatment and survivorship information and additional resources including counselling services, links to support groups, recordings of educational one-hour workshops and podcasts, informational publications and fact sheets, and FAQs.
- Free Circle+Bloom Cancer Visualization Program: This free 30-minute guided meditation uses visualization techniques to help you tap into the healing powers of the mind-body connection. This program will relax and quiet your mind, and help you feel in greater control over your body.
For those of you in our Circle+Bloom community who have experienced a cancer diagnosis and treatment, I am holding you in light and love today and everyday. I hope some of the information here may be of use to you, and that you feel the support from this group as we all struggle along on our own unique paths together.
With love & gratitude,