Life After Cancer

Creating Your Survivorship Roadmap

Early screening tests, new treatments and better ways to manage side effects are allowing many melanoma patients to live longer and healthier lives. As a cancer survivor, you still need information and support to help you on the road to emotional as well as physical recovery. What follows may assist you in making a plan that helps you focus on enjoying your best quality of life.

What Is Cancer Suvivorship?

People define cancer survivorship in one of two ways:

  • Completing treatment and having no sign of disease
  • Living with and beyond cancer

With the second definition, survivorship begins at diagnosis and continues through and past treatment. It includes people who are living disease-free and those who are managing cancer as a chronic condition. However you define it, knowing what to expect and where to find help can guide you as you continue to move forward.

Creating A Survivorship Plan

A survivorship plan is essential once you finish treatment. Think of it as a life wellness plan or a roadmap that helps you figure out where you’re going and how to get there. You may be able to compile most of the information on your own, but be sure to discuss each part of your plan with your doctor. Following are certain key elements to include. Download a sample survivorship plan and schedule.

  • Medical history and summary of your cancer treatments. This information can help doctors continue to provide you the best possible care.
  • Your family’s medical history, including any history of cancer
  • Your cancer diagnosis, including the date of diagnosis and the type, stage and location of your cancer
  • Your diagnostic test results
  • Your symptoms
  • Your procedures
  • Your medical treatments, including drug names, dosages, dates and any side effects; include ongoing maintenance therapy
  • Any supportive care you have received, such as emotional counseling

Health care team. Keep a contact log for your entire health care team. Include names, titles, phone numbers, addresses and each person’s role in your care.

Late effects and risks. Late effects are side effects that may last or show up weeks, months or even years after your treatment ends. Be sure to ask your doctor about the signs and symptoms to watch for so you can detect and manage them early. Also ask about your risk for cancer coming back where it first started (local recurrence) or spreading to other parts of your body (metastasis).

Follow-up schedule. This will include information about future appointments, diagnostic tests and exams to monitor for signs of a recurrence or another cancer.

Your doctor should provide you with this schedule. If not, ask. It is important to know how often you will need checkups in the coming years. Include any other procedures, such as reconstruction, that are part of your overall treatment plan. If you had a larger tumor removed, for example, a plastic surgeon may repair it with reconstructive techniques.

As always, it is important to conduct self-exams in between follow-up appointments.

Your survivorship plan is only useful if you understand and use it. Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor any questions.

Getting Back Into The Swing of Things

You may be looking forward to resuming your pre-cancer schedule, or you may decide to change your approach. Either way, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Lifestyle choices. Staying healthy and active is an important part of survivorship. Eating right and exercising continue to offer multiple health benefits and help you build a solid foundation for going forward. It may be helpful to consider nutrition and exercise as treatments your body needs to continue to be well. It may even help reduce the risk of returning or new cancers. Consider these general suggestions:

  • Work with a dietitian to create healthier eating habits
  • Maintain or start an exercise plan
  • Quit smoking
  • Wear sunscreen every time you go outside

Returning to work. Did you quit working or cut back hours while in treatment? If so, you may be thinking about returning. Work with your supervisor as you plan for this. Refer to the Americans with Disabilities Act to know your rights in the workplace. And keep in mind that you may have long-term effects that could require some short-term changes such as these:

  • A flexible schedule or reduced hours     
  • A redesigned workstation
  • The ability to work from home
  • Different responsibilities

Heading back to class. Maintain open communication with the faculty, and consider requesting resources from the school, such as emotional and social support, to help transition between treatment and school. Consider visiting the school or campus before returning. You might ask for simple accommodations, such as having extra time between classes to move from one building or classroom to another, having two sets of textbooks so you can keep one set at home, and being excused from a physical education class.

Worries about getting an infection, not having enough energy to keep up or that your friends and classmates have moved on without you may add to your concerns. Give yourself time to transition back. Being prepared may help ease anxiety and keep you from getting overwhelmed.