Calling all cancer patients!!
Ask your cancer doctors (surgeon, medical oncologist/hematologist, radiation oncologist) which one of them is going to develop and explain your Cancer Survivorship Care Plan at the end of your treatments. Don't go home after treatment is completed simply to say to yourself "What do I do now? What's next? What do I need to monitor?" or worse, and I mean this sincerely, simply put your head in the sand or your blinders on while saying "Whew, that's over with, now I can forget this ever happened".
My own oncologist candidly told me several years ago that the oncology community didn't even know there was a ball game in town (i.e., unmet survivorship concerns) to have dropped the ball. How's that for being straight forward?
Grass roots efforts have changed that understanding, with the oncology community catching up by gradually developing guidelines for survivorship concerns geared to specific cancers and specific cancer treatments. They consist of a written summary of your diagnosis and treatments along with recommendations for specific follow-up health issues of concern based on the type of treatments.
These written guidelines are not yet developed for all cancers, there is no "mandate" requiring them (yet) as part of true comprehensive cancer care, and there is concern that doctors won't have the time anyway to actually use them to help you take care of yourself after the cancer treatments. SO, I highly recommend that YOU (the patient) insist on your doctor doing so.
Survivorship concerns are legitimate concerns and frankly are a "problem of success". If cancer was not diagnosed early enough to be considered treatable, there would be very little call for more proactive and coordinated care for those people living years, even decades, after a cancer diagnosis, as is frequently the case these days.
These care plans are to include specific nutritional and lifestyle recommendations for optimizing health and wellness after cancer, too, so make sure that those concerns are included and discussed in your cancer survivorship care plans. Don't let your doctor tell you nutrition does not matter or to just "eat right and exercise". Ask for a referral to a Registered Dietitian who can help assess your current nutritional status post-treatment, ALL of your nutritional concerns (i.e., do you need to lose weight or gain weight, are you at risk for or already have developed diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, etc, in addition to wondering what foods are the best to eat to reduce the risk of your type of cancer recurring). She will also help prioritize and pull all these concerns together, work with you in a step-wise fashion to develop a plan for the changes that are both helpful and reasonable, and then be your cheerleader along the way as you make these changes for your health.
Take care of yourself! Speaking up to ask for these cancer survivorship care plans as a component of your full comprehensive cancer care is important. Don't by shy. Think of your self-advocacy as "Active Hope"!
Diana Dyer, MS, RD