Cancer Survivorship

A person who has cancer -- or who has had it in the past -- is called a cancer survivor. More than one million people with a history of cancer live in New York State.

Cancer survivorship is a focus on the health and well-being of cancer survivors. This includes the physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and financial effects of cancer. The effects of cancer begin at diagnosis, continue through treatment, and can have an impact even after treatment has ended. Cancer survivors, family members, friends, and caregivers are all a part of the cancer survivorship experience.

Learning that you have cancer can be a life-changing experience. Cancer survivors may experience a wide range of emotions after the diagnosis, during treatment, and after treatment is finished. After your cancer diagnosis, you may feel anxious, afraid, angry, or overwhelmed. You may also find that you appreciate life and loved ones more -- and that you are more self-accepting.

Cancer survivors are often given a lot of information. It may be helpful to have a trusted friend or family member go to appointments with you to take notes, ask questions, or just be there for support. While it may be overwhelming, having all the facts may help you feel more in control as you make important decisions. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Learn about your cancer. Learn the cancer’s name, where it started, its size, and if it has spread to other parts of your body. Ask if it is a slow-growing cancer, or a fast-growing (aggressive) type of cancer. Also ask what type of cancer doctor (oncologist) is best for treating your type of cancer.
  • Learn about your treatment options and their side effects. Your health care provider will tell you which treatment options are available. Before they do, they may need to run many tests and talk to other experts. It is up to you and your health care provider to decide which treatment choices are best for you.
  • Think about getting a second opinion. It’s not always needed, but getting a second opinion may help you feel confident that your diagnosis and treatment plan are right for you. You may want to find out if your insurance will cover a second opinion.
  • Talk to your providers about your health concerns. Do you have other serious conditions that are treated by specialists, like diabetes or heart disease? If so, check in with your providers during your cancer treatment.

You may need time to process your emotions. These activities may help:

  • Get support for yourself and your family. Reach out to friends, relatives, and loved ones. Talk about your feelings, even if this is hard to do. Your loved ones may want to help, so don’t be afraid to ask for it.
  • Talk to other cancer survivors. Join a cancer support group.
  • Talk to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or a licensed counselor. One-on-one counseling will give you a chance to focus on your own feelings and concerns.
  • Learn about mindfulness and other types of meditation. Meditation and relaxation exercises can quiet your mind and help reduce anxiety and stress.
  • Reach out to a spiritual leader. Research suggests that spirituality improves quality of life. It can offer a strong social support network and help you cope.
  • Get help with other sources of stress in your life. Find organizations that can help with legal and financial matters, such as insurance coverage or benefits, housing, and employment discrimination.

Here is a source for more information: American Cancer Society - After Diagnosis: A Guide for Patients and Families.

There are many types of cancer treatment. The type and length of treatment you get depends on the type of cancer you have and if the cancer has spread to another part of your body. Cancer treatment may include chemotherapy (chemo), radiation, stem cell or bone marrow transplant, hormone therapy, or immunotherapy. For some slow-growing cancers, health care providers may recommend a "watch-and-wait" approach. This means there is no active treatment, but a close watch will be kept on the cancer.

Choosing the type of treatment that is right for you may be hard. Talk to your cancer doctor (oncologist) about treatments for your type of cancer. They can explain the risks and benefits of each treatment and their side effects.

The National Cancer Institute offers a list of questions to ask your doctor about cancer.

After your cancer treatment, it may take time to feel like yourself again. Some survivors may have long-term health issues that need to be watched closely. How often you see your cancer doctor(s) after initial treatment, depends on your type of cancer and the type of treatments you received.

In addition to cancer follow-up care, you may need to see other health care providers or specialists -- such as your primary care doctor, dentist, or eye doctor. Each one will want to know about your cancer, your treatments, your follow-up care plan, and any side effects that you may have. Your cancer doctor and you should record this information to create a survivorship care plan. Take it to all of your medical appointments.

As a cancer survivor, you should get a personalized survivorship care plan from your cancer doctor. Every cancer survivor should. This plan is a tool that will help you receive continual and consistent physical and mental health care. Many cancer survivors have physical and mental health needs that are treated by different providers in different care settings. A survivorship care plan is a place to record cancer medical history, to manage follow-up care, and keep information about all of your health care providers in one place. It can also include information about how to address your overall health. Keep your plan up to date by bringing it with you to all of your medical appointments. If you did not get a survivorship care plan from your cancer doctor, ask them to provide you with one.

It's important to care for your body and mind during and after cancer treatment. Making the healthiest choices can improve your overall health and make you feel better mentally and emotionally. Making good choices can also lower your risk of getting cancer again. Here are some things you can do:

  • Go to follow-up tests and appointments that your doctor recommends. This can help you manage any symptoms you may have after cancer treatment ends. It can also find early signs of a new type of cancer or the same cancer.
  • Stay up to date with any recommended cancer screenings, such as breast, cervical, colorectal, and lung cancer screening.
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep a healthy weight.
  • Get enough rest and sleep. If you're having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about your sleep habits. They may offer tips for better sleep.
  • Exercise when you feel up to it -- and if your cancer care team agrees that it is okay. You can start with a mild exercise program such as walking, yoga, or stretching. Some exercise programs are designed just for cancer survivors. Ask your cancer doctor or care team about exercise programs they recommend.
  • Do not use tobacco and stay away from other people's smoke. If you do smoke, try to quit. For more information on quitting smoking, visit the NYS Smokers' Quitline at -- or call 1-866-NY-QUITS.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink or don't drink at all.
  • Protect your skin from exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun and tanning beds.

See the resources section for helpful links.

To help manage your cancer, call the American Cancer Society (ACS) 24/7 Cancer Helpline at 1-800-227-2345. The ACS has local offices throughout New York State.

If you are a breast cancer survivor, services from the New York State Community-based Breast Cancer Support and Wellness Program may be located near you. Click here to find out. This program supports local organizations providing services, such as education, support groups, exercise classes, yoga classes, mental health counseling, stress management classes, and nutrition programs.

Some types of cancer and cancer treatments can weaken the immune system and make cancer survivors more likely to get very ill from COVID-19.

Doctors and expert medical groups recommend that most cancer survivors get the COVID-19 vaccine and boosters. The main concern about the vaccines is not whether it is safe for people with cancer, but about how effective it will be. It is not known if the vaccine will be as effective for people with weakened immune systems, as it is for people with healthy immune systems. Cancer survivors should talk with their doctors for more information about the COVID-19 vaccines.

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