This blog is written by NPWH Board Member Rachel Gorham, MSN, WHNP-BC, AGN-BC
It was April 2016, when I heard the words, “You have cervical cancer.” I remember finding out the news before heading into a busy day of clinic and seeing my own patients. I quietly walked into my office, closed the door, and broke down. I remember drying my tears, saying a prayer, and from that moment on I never looked back. I was a mother to my only child, Makenzie, and knew what I had to do in order to win the battle ahead of me. I underwent a surgical intervention the following week and required no adjuvant therapy. May marks my three-year anniversary of celebrating cancer survivorship.
Who Exactly are Cancer Survivors?
Experts from the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute defines a cancer survivor as any individual who has been diagnosed with cancer and remains alive and well. This includes patients who are currently undergoing treatment, as well as those who have finished treatment and are considered cancer-free.
As of January 1, 2014, there are 6,876,600 men and 7,607,230 women who survived cancer. The numbers were based on the Cancer Treatment & Survivorship Facts & Figures 2014-2015 report, which is a collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute. Current statistics report that 64% of all cancer survivors have lived at least five years since their diagnosis. That includes the 15% of people who lived at least twenty years since their cancer diagnosis. Nearly half (46%) of cancer survivors are 70 years of age or older.
There are over 15 million cancer survivors in America. National Cancer Survivor’s Day is meant to be cherished around the world on the second day of June. This is a day for reflection and celebration. Whether you are a cancer survivor yourself, supportive family member, or beloved friend to someone who has recently been diagnosed, today provides us with courage and strength to overcome.
A Cancer Survivor’s Journey
There are three phases of cancer survivorship:
- Acute survivorship starts at the time a patient is diagnosed with cancer and goes through the end of treatment. The main goal of this phase is cancer treatment.
- Extended survivorship starts at the end of cancer treatment and advances through the upcoming months. The main effects of cancer and treatment is the focus during this phase.
- Permanent survivorship is the last phase which encompasses years passed since the end of cancer treatment. There is typically less of a chance that the cancer will recur during this phase.
The long-term effects of cancer and treatment is the focus. As patients transition between phases, so do their needs. The patient’s physical, emotional, and psychological needs must be met at each individual phase in order to provide holistic care.
Caring for Cancer Survivors
Long-term cancer survivorship focuses on health, wellness, and the prevention of cancer recurrence. Accomplishing this goal includes a team of medical oncologists, nurse practitioners, nurse navigators, social workers, registered dietitians, and support staff. Providing cancer survivorship care consists of four activities: disease surveillance, recognition of the signs and symptoms of disease recurrence, adhering to the recommended healthcare maintenance, and education on long-term effects from cancer treatment.
The 2005 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report “From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor: Lost in Transition” recommends that every cancer survivor receives a survivorship care plan. The goal of this plan is to educate and guide patients through long-term cancer survivorship. The care plan provides specific details on the patient’s diagnosis, treatment, and potential long-term sequelae. The survivorship care plan also addresses recommended follow-ups, adherence to treatment, physical examination, goals of cancer survivorship, and diagnostic testing schedules. The care plan provides a means of communication between all members of the patient’s healthcare team.
As medical research continues to improve survival statistics and the number of cancer survivors grow, its increasingly important to understand the psychological and medical needs of cancer survivorship. Clinicians who care for cancer survivors have the power to help their patients achieve an optimal quality of life.