Living with cancer blog

Moving from cancer treatment to the waiting phase

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. November 20, 2010

If you're 1 of the more than 11 million cancer survivors living in the United States, the phrase "the waiting room" brings on a new meaning.

As a cancer survivor, you've probably endured weeks of diagnostic tests, many visits to your doctor, endless appointments for treatment and follow-up care; and then what happens? Your cancer team declares that you're finished with treatment. You think to yourself, "This is what I've been waiting for!" "I should be so ecstatic!" But then, you think, "What's next?"

As you finish the treatment phase, you move into a waiting phase — waiting for the next visit, at 3 months, 6 months, a year, and then 5 years. The entire time, you're probably just trying to get on with life; forever changed, but moving toward a new definition of normalcy. Every time you go back, waiting, wondering and thinking about your worst fear — the cancer returning.

The feelings of anxiety and worry about your test results in the weeks and months before your next visit, as well as the nerve-racking time spent in the waiting room, is one of the most difficult aspects of being a survivor. After this period, annual check-ups and tests, then you move into an even more undefined period after 5 years; long-term survivorship.

The medical community is beginning to study and understand the concerns of cancer survivors. Research shows that more than 60 percent of cancer survivors report fear of their cancer returning. Cancer survivors also live with long-term physical and psychosocial concerns. A few of the most common concerns are fatigue, sleep difficulties, sexual concerns, and worry about financial resources. As a cancer survivor, what can you do to take an active role in this period of survivorship?

Here are a few simple ideas:

  • Stay informed by keeping track of the latest research on your cancer type. Stay in touch with your regular doctor, ask questions, get regular screening tests and keep track of your medical history. Find a survivor care plan that works for you and start to work on this with help from your care team.
  • Be healthy by eating well, staying active and incorporating good strategies to deal with stress. Find resources for community cooking classes to learn new strategies to incorporate disease fighting foods. Participate in physical activity that works for you (walk, bike or swim with a friend at least 3 times a week). Explore relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi or meditation.
  • Take control by seeking financial resources, asking for assistance with long-term planning and being proactive with planning for the future.
  • Be aware of any changes in your body or health status. Don't wait until your next visit to have a new symptom or concern checked out. You're the one who understands your body best.

With

Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Follow on Twitter: @SherylNess1

Join the discussion at #livingwithcancer.

Nov. 20, 2010