Every cancer patient looks forward to the day when the disease is no longer part of his or her daily life. But even when you're not confronting it in your body every day, cancer will most likely remain in the back of your mind — probably for the rest of your life.
How can you keep an eye on yourself and watch for recurrence or late effects — without becoming a hypochondriac?
Dr. Charles Levenback, deputy chairman of the Department of Gynecologic Oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, offers suggestions on how to remain vigilant after you've been treated for cancer.
- Be aware of the possibility of recurrence.
- Monitor any lingering symptoms. Keeping a journal may be helpful.
- Don't be afraid to call your doctor. If the doctor is not available, give a clear, detailed description of your problem to the nurse. Sometimes the nurse can help without involving the physician.
- Be honest with your family about the possibilities of recurrence. Consider including family members in physician visits.
Once you reach a specific stage of recovery or get to the five-year survival mark, you probably will return to your primary care physician. And since you may move or change doctors over the years, chances are good you'll eventually see a doctor who doesn't know about the cancer in your past.
When it's time to be released from the care of your oncologist, you need to develop a written long-term care plan. This important plan will help other doctors understand whether any issues you may face in the future are related to cancer.
Be sure the plan includes information about all of the following:
- Cancer diagnosis
- Treatment (including timing, dosage and duration of chemotherapy or other methods)
- Potential side effects of the cancer and treatment
- Recommendations for frequency of follow-up visits
- Tests that should be performed at follow-up visits
- Tips for staying healthy and preventing recurrences or secondary cancers
Armed with a plan and the facts, you may find that you're able to get on with life with fewer glances back at cancer.
"At first, it seemed like I thought about the cancer coming back every day," reported Wendy, a 52-year-old breast-cancer survivor in Houston. "I still think about it. But by living a healthful lifestyle, I'm doing all I can, so I don't worry about it as much."
Printed with permission from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center © 2010.