The term cancer survivor is now commonly used to describe a person from the time of cancer diagnosis through the remaining years of life (sometimes family members or support persons of the individual diagnosed with cancer are also referred to as survivors). Survivors face numerous physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and financial issues at diagnosis, during treatment, and sometimes throughout the remaining years of their lives. Recent research substantiates the long term effects of cancer after active treatment is finished.
In Canada cancer survivorship has been identified as an area of attention.
There are approximately 17,000 women in Canada living with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
- Many women who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer express how difficult the survivorship phase is at the start.
- You may feel out of synch with friends and family who tell you the cancer is “over” and you can go back to “normal”. You may feel profoundly changed by the experience of having dealt with a serious disease and having confronted your mortality.
- You may still be coping with side effects from treatment—fatigue being one of the most persistent, along with cognitive changes, and other side effects.
- You may feel anxiety—being vigilant about looking for any symptoms that may signal recurrence.
- You may be dealing with a changed self image (for instance, as a young woman who has gone through surgical menopause).
- You may be dealing with losses that occurred through the treatment such as changes in your body image, your energy level, your healthy self.
- You may be in a changed situation job wise and financially as a result of treatment.
- Your family may have had to cope in different ways while you were ill and roles may have shifted.
Picking up the pieces
In early 2006, Ovarian Cancer Canada sponsored 18 ovarian cancer survivors from across the country to attend the Second International Cancer Rehabilitation Conference entitled “Survivorship: Moving Forward after Treatment” in Vancouver. At this conference Dr. Sherri Magee, the Conference Chair, and her colleague Kathy Scalzo led a workshop based on their book, "Picking Up the Pieces." The impact of this workshop on the 18 ovarian cancer survivors was enormous and subsequently, sponsored by Ovarian Cancer Canada, Dr. Magee led ten day-long workshops across the country for ovarian cancer survivors and, in early 2009, facilitated a book club telephone series based on "Picking Up the Pieces." The book club inspired participants and provided important tools for their post treatment journeys.
Document from NIH: Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment:
The Cancer Survival Toolbox is an audio program to help people better meet and understand the challenges of their illness. National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship is the oldest survivor-led cancer advocacy organization
Lance Armstrong Foundation provides a wealth of information about the survivorship phase of the cancer Journey.
“In 2004, about 850 000 Canadians, or 2.7% of the Canadian population, had received a diagnosis of cancer at some time during the past 15 years. This number will also continue to increase because of the growing number of new cases and improvements in survival.” Cancer in Canada in 2008
Cancer survivorship is a phase of the cancer journey that only recently has begun to receive the attention it deserves. Ovarian Cancer Canada has worked with Canadian organizations dedicated to improving all phases of the cancer journey. Two of these organizations welcome the involvement of cancer survivors because of their firsthand experience.
Dealing with ovarian cancer, surgery, chemotherapy, side effects, and all other treatment issues can seem like a full-time job. Often women find that when treatment ends things change. After feeling as though you have been the centre of attention during treatment, the attention seems to disappear when therapy is over.
After treatment is over, you may feel afraid, insecure and left on your own. You may feel as though you have to take more responsibility for your health. You may find that you are always watching for signs and symptoms of a relapse. Waiting for test results may make you very anxious. There may be other things that cause you to become anxious, afraid or worried during this phase, such as:
- Aches and pains
- Anniversary dates of when you were diagnosed or had surgery
- A family member or a friend becomes ill
- A diagnosis or recurrence of cancer in someone you hardly know
- News about cancer in the media
- Decide what you can control, what you cannot, and control the things you can
- Accept that there may be times you feel angry, annoyed or sad
- Take one day at a time
- Do the things that help you feel close to family and friends
- Pay attention to beauty – sights, sounds, tastes, smells, physical contact
- Make time to do things you enjoy
- Get support from your family doctor, social worker or counsellor on your healthcare team
- Consider medication, if necessary
You will be followed closely at every stage of your cancer journey, from initial diagnosis through surgery and treatment.
Follow-up tests and treatments will vary. You will have scheduled visits with your doctor to:
- Monitor your response to treatment
- Recognize and immediately deal with any treatment-related complications
- Ensure early detection of persistent or recurrent disease
The frequency of visits will vary according to your specific situation, although a general guideline is as follows:
- Year 1: every 3 months
- Years 2-3: every 4 months
- Years 4-5: every 6 months
- Years 5+: annually
To assess your overall health, your follow up visit will generally include:
- A full pelvic examination
- A physical examination
- Possibly an ultrasound or CT scan
- Blood tests
To learn more about these various tests and their effectiveness, please see the section:
Detecting Ovarian Cancer.