Doctors, nurses, patients and family members all celebrate the end of active cancer treatment, and yet patients often report experiencing complex emotions as they transition back to their pre-cancer lives. They describe feeling adrift, challenged by lingering side effects and anxious about moving on under the specter of potential recurrence.
I recently saw a patient who is completing her year of chemotherapy for a curable cancer. Very positive news, but she described feeling distraught and anxious about returning to work. She worried she would not be able to keep up with the fast pace and to be able to focus on details and multiple tasks as she had done prior to her cancer. Her employer was understanding, her family supportive, but still she lacked confidence in her own ability to perform at her prior level. I assured her that many others voiced similar experiences, and that she may benefit from peer support as well as good coaching on how to return to work.
This patient is certainly not alone. There are currently more than 15.5 million Americans with a history of cancer, and we cancer clinicians have come to recognize survivorship as another distinct phase in the cancer journey. During their treatment phase they could count on a team of caring professionals to provide support and guidance through the maze of appointments, tests and procedures, only to find that these supports seem to vanish at the end of active therapy.
To help address this important need, the Stanford Cancer Institute directs an integrated Cancer Survivorship Program that coordinates multiple patient and family support services to deliver individualized care to every cancer patient at Stanford. A multi-specialty team of oncologists, nurses, social workers and other specialists work together to a post-treatment plan for each patient and their family. Our staff helps patients emotionally process their experience, cope with issues like financial anxiety, altered body image, confidence and intimacy. We provide strategies to help manage side effects of treatment, improve communication with their doctors and care team, handle difficult situations or relationships, and feel confident about resuming their normal routines. In short it is all focused on restoring quality of life.
In addition to my faculty position as Stanford, I also serve as editor and chief of Cancer.net, the patient information website of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Together we made a brief video about what to expect when finishing cancer treatment, which some readers might find informative.
To assist more Bay Area patients in this post-cancer stage, the Stanford Cancer Institute and Stanford Health Care are partnering with Cancer CAREpoint to offer an eight-week survivors’ workshop designed for people who have been out of active treatment for at least three months. The workshop begins in June and will be held at the Stanford Cancer Center South Bay in San Jose. To learn more about or to register for the workshop, contact Cancer CAREpoint social worker Amy Goldsbury, MSW, via email.
Lidia Schapira, MD, is an associate professor of oncology and director of the Cancer Survivorship Program at Stanford.
Previously: A look at Stanford Cancer Institute’s survivorship program, Ernest and Isadora Rosenbaum Library: A free, comprehensive guide to living with cancer and Cancer survivor: The disease isn’t a “one-off, one-shot deal”