What exactly does this term mean? For many, it means embarking on a journey they never thought they would have to go through. For others, it signifies the end of treatments. Many patients that I work with don’t consider themselves “survivors” until their treatments are over.
The National Cancer Institute (2023) defines survivorship quite beautifully: “In cancer, survivorship focuses on the health and well-being of a person with cancer from the time of diagnosis until the end of life. This includes the physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial effects of cancer that begin at diagnosis and continue through treatment and beyond. The survivorship experience also includes issues related to follow-up care (including regular health and wellness checkups), late effects of treatment, cancer recurrence and quality of life. Family members and friends are also considered part of the survivorship experience” (Source 1) This definition is very holistic because it focuses care on the whole person, not just who they are based on their cancer diagnosis.
Many patients who’ve completed treatments admit to feeling bittersweet about this. Patients admit that when they are done with treatments and transitioning into the surveillance phase of their cancer journey is when anxiety and fear really starts to creep in. Their focus shifts to picking up the pieces and dealing with the aftermath of what they (and their loved ones) have been through. Often, we see mental and emotional health struggles increase at this time.
This is one of the many reasons we developed the Cancer Survivorship & Wellness Program here at Centra’s Alan B. Pearson Regional Cancer Center, to give patients hope as we work towards getting them back to as close to pre-diagnosis functional level as possible. This takes time though. I explain to my patients, who I see in the Survivorship Clinic, that they have survived their cancer surgeries, treatments, etc., and now, it’s time to THRIVE! My role of helping patients to thrive no matter where they are in their journey is one of the main ways that I carry Centra's mission of, "improving the health and quality of life for the communities we serve.”
Our Survivorship & Wellness Program has a variety of services for both patients and Caregivers. We offer comprehensive survivorship visits, support groups, educational classes, exercise and wellness programs, mental health support and much more! Anyone can participate in this program, regardless of where they are in their cancer journey.