By Ashlyn Seeley Everett, M.D., radiation oncologist at Alliance Cancer Care
With advances in cancer treatment and improvements in screening and early detection, more cancer survivors are alive today in the United States than ever before. The age-adjusted death rate from cancer has decreased by 27% in the past 20 years.1 There are more than 16.9 million people in the US alive today who have been diagnosed with cancer.2 In the month of June, we celebrate our survivors – your courage, strength, and resilience during their cancer journey.
If you are a cancer survivor, congratulations! However, we know you have experienced changes to both your body and mind with cancer treatment. Physical, emotional, and often financial hardships are common after a cancer diagnosis. Often, these will improve with time, and most patients find a “new normal” in their daily lives.
Physical changes and symptoms will vary depending on the type of cancer you have and the specific treatments you received. Radiation therapy side effects will vary significantly from very mild to very severe, depending on your individual situation. Common symptoms you may experience after treatment include:
- Change in diet or appetite
- Skin changes
If you have these symptoms, please discuss them with your doctor, particularly if they are severe. They typically improve with time, but are also better if you are also taking care of yourself. This may include:
- Getting a good night’s sleep,
- Exercising regularly – try a light exercise like walking
- Eating a healthy diet high in protein
- Drinking plenty of water, and
- Moisturizing your skin.
Be sure to take care of yourself, and allow others to help care for you too.
Emotional changes are also very common during and after completing radiation therapy. Many patients find that while receiving radiation therapy, the staff members become their friends and the routine of coming for treatment becomes “normal.” Once treatment ends, or around the time of doctor visits or scans, many people may experience:
- A sense of loneliness or helplessness
These emotional issues are also important to discuss with your doctor or a trusted friend or family member. Many patients find that a cancer support group, whether online or in-person, is helpful for sharing stories and gaining a new sense of community or belonging. Anxiety and depression are common if patients feel like they are not doing anything to get better. These feelings and emotions are not wrong, and are important for you to feel and experience. You may also want to try journaling, prayer, or meditation to help you process your emotions. If you have anxiety or depression, please consider seeking help from a counselor or talking with your doctor about other treatment options.
While you are on the road to recovery, Alliance Cancer Care wants to support you. Please reach out to your provider if you have any concerns about your recovery from cancer. We encourage you to keep all scheduled appointments to see your doctor, and receive any testing recommended. It is also important to remember that you may still require additional screening tests for other cancers. Finally, it is important to know that your doctors will want to watch for any long-term health issues that may be related to your prior cancer treatment. But most importantly, we want to help you celebrate your journey and celebrate your life!
Alliance Cancer Care will celebrate our survivors this month by hosting a drive-through Survivor’s Day celebration on Friday, June 24, at our Singing River Cancer Center Location. Join us to celebrate your life and recovery from cancer!
–National Cancer Institute
–American Cancer Society Tools for Cancer Survivors
-National Cancer Survivors Day Website
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (June 1, 2022) An Update on Cancer Deaths in the United States. gov. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/research/update-on-cancer-deaths/index.htm
- National Cancer Institute – Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. (June 1, 2022) Cancer.gov. https://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/ocs/statistics#stats