We asked our Current Oncology contributors how they would define the term “life after cancer” and how that theme presents itself in their chosen fields. Below is a response from Dr. Baukje (Bo) Miedema, Dalhousie University, Fredericton Family Medicine Teaching Unit.
Cancer is seen more and more as a “chronic disease” because of the good survival rate for many types of cancer. Thus there are now a lot of people that face “life after cancer.” For some cancer survivors, life goes on as usual because they experience few problems and are able to put the disease behind them, albeit the fear of recurrence is never far away. For others life after cancer is tethered to the physical cancer treatments or the psychosocial impact of the treatments for a long time.
Psychosocial issues initially may appear to be of little importance, particularly when survival is at stake, but the further a survivor is removed from cancer treatment, the more important these issues become. Paying off debts due to the extensive travel cost for treatment or treatment itself long after the cancer is in remission can be a major problem for some. Employment and education prospects may have been altered considerably after treatment, leading to serious long-term consequences. In addition, cancer survivors have increased risk for new primary cancers and other chronic diseases.
It is wonderful that cancer has become a “chronic disease”. Unfortunately, in Canada, we often lack a comprehensive approach to “life after cancer.” We require comprehensive physical and psychosocial cancer rehabilitation programs to minimize the physical and psychosocial treatment effects and reduce the risk factors for other chronic diseases, regardless of the age of the survivors and the type of cancer. In many cases these programs should also include close family members and friends as well, because they also may have been severely impacted by the cancer experiences. Eventually we all want to “make cancer history,” but for now, we need to consider “life after cancer” needs.