Hello again! It’s me, Selena. In addition to being your Leukemia Power Writer, I also have the privilege of being your Life After Cancer Power Writer too.
I was just reflecting on a pretty amazing fact the other day. Did you know that I have lived 23 years beyond my leukemia cancer diagnosis? The anniversary of my remission actually just happened earlier this month. Did you also know that I have now lived more years as a cancer survivor than I have as just a plain old ordinary person without cancer?
Pretty impressive for a girl that was only given a 33% chance to survive her cancer at the time of diagnosis in 1988.
Looking back at all of this now in 2011, I have to say it is all pretty mind-boggling.
When I finished treatment by my 23rd birthday–one I honestly didn’t know if I would be here to enjoy–I had no idea what cancer survivorship would mean to me. I didn’t consider it might mean traveling through life with new problems and challenges that were the result of my cancer treatment. Like many cancer survivors both then and now, I thought that when I finished treatment the cancer chapter of my life would be over.
After all, once I got to the five year remission milestone, my oncologists stopped following me. For all intensive purposes, it was like they stamped “cured” on my file and sent me on my way.
Little did I know that those nagging little questions I pushed aside during my battle with cancer would come back to haunt me. Questions like:
- Are all those chemotherapy drugs they are giving me doing some else besides killing my cancer?
- Is it bad that I am getting so many blood transfusions?
- Will my cancer treatment make me infertile like the doctors warned me?
- Will cancer affect my life moving forward?
- Can I just go back to “normal” once my treatment is over?
- Since I’ve already had cancer once, I can’t get it again, right?
Twenty-three years later, I know in no uncertain terms that being a cancer survivor can presents many challenges. There are late and long term effects from the cancer treatments themselves: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. There are issues that can arise in the areas of school, work, relationships, family building, health and life insurance. There are impacts on self-worth, self-esteem, feelings and moods.
Fortunately, the medical community has begun to recognize the needs of cancer survivors. In 2006, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published the report “From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor: Lost In Transition” which advocates for all cancer survivors to receive a comprehensive yearly survivorship care plan to address their medical and psychosocial needs.
I’ve been attending appointments at the UCLA-Livestrong Survivorship Center of Excellence since 2006, and the doctors there help me maintain my health and address my specific late and long-term cancer treatment concerns.
Yes, I’ve learned the hard way over the last 23 years about what it means to be a cancer survivor. My desire to share what I know and provide resources to help fellow cancer survivors like you are just a few of the reasons I became your Life After Cancer Power Team Writer.
I also want to hear from you about your questions and concerns about life after cancer. So please, leave me a comment here or contact me via email.
Next time I’ll talk about reliable resources for educating yourself about many of the issues that face cancer survivors.
This article is intended to convey general educational information and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.