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When treatment is over, where do you turn?


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I Am Afraid My Cancer Will Come Back

When treatment is over, where do you turn?

For many, the phase after treatment can be particularly challenging as they struggle to recover from the physical and psychological changes wrought by cancer. Although treatment is finished, myriad emotions, including anger, loneliness and fear of recurrence, often linger.

Cancer survivors are also at risk for depression (see On the Side in Lifeline, winter 2005), which can be compounded by the residual symptoms presented by both the cancer and ensuing treatments. In a recent survey of 266 women who underwent cancer surgery, Erica S. Breslau, Ph.D., and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University found that approximately one-third of the participants had experienced psychological problems after treatment, with problems becoming most severe four months after surgery.

Marnie McHale, R.N., senior director of the Kellogg Cancer Care Center at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare in Evanston, Ill., offers several coping tips for cancer survivors who need support during this critical stage of the cancer experience:

Talk realistically with your health care team to get an honest appraisal of your recovery time after treatment; in many cases, your recovery may take longer than you anticipate.

Hold a family meeting to discuss what you might need during your after-therapy recovery period, incorporating your own ideas and information from your health care team. Consider having a similar discussion in your workplace, if appropriate.

Set realistic personal goals for yourself regarding your timelines for resuming activities and responsibilities at home, at work and in the community. Remember, you may need to change or adjust your goals as you go.

Incorporate a moderate exercise regimen during your after-therapy recovery; with any luck, it will be an extension of the exercises you were doing during your therapy. Exercise is a powerful tool in the fight again fatigue and other symptoms.

Use your support system including your oncology nurse to manage the feelings that occur following the completion of therapy. Sometimes there is a reactivation or escalation of fears of recurrence, especially since you are not seeing your doctor on a regular basis. Seek additional support from trained professionals and support groups if you need it.

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