Cancer survivors sometimes refer to themselves as disease-free, but not free of disease. That’s because even though the cancer is gone, patients may still experience physical and emotional symptoms and side effects related to treatment.
The physical symptoms and side effects are related to the type of treatment. For example, lymphedema can be a late effect in patients who have had breast surgery with lymph node removal. Peripheral neuropathy can occur in patients who received certain chemotherapy drugs. With radiation therapy, the effects are related to the location of treatment. For example, if treated in the head or neck area, it is likely that dental problems will occur.
Here are some of the most common symptoms and side effects patients experience after undergoing treatment:
Pain at surgical site
Range of motion issues
Loss of taste
Dependent on site:
Dependent on specific drug prescribed:
These late effects are explained prior to starting any therapy and reviewed again at completion of treatment.
Although the physical symptoms and side effects are unpleasant, overcoming the emotional aspects of survivorship is the biggest hurdle for many people. Some people want things to go back to normal as quickly as possible, but others need more time to process the experience.
Survivor’s guilt is common. Cancer survivors sometimes wonder why they survived when others did not. Some people also feel guilty if they required less treatment – for example, if they only needed surgery and didn’t have to go through chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Others may fear their cancer returning.
Fortunately, there’s help for those who experience the late effects of treatment and survivorship. The doctor who treated you – often a medical oncologist or other specialists – can help you address physical symptoms and side effects or refer you to the proper physician. Some examples include rehab services, psychological services, cardiologists and integrative medicine.
If you’re having trouble overcoming the emotional aspects of survivorship, talking with a therapist, joining a support group or talking with another individual with cancer may help. Support groups offer access to a group of people who share the same life-altering experience. You can get advice and learn about resources, as well as share your own experience. One-on-one support is available through “mentor” programs or with individual counseling, if needed.
Edward-Elmhurst Health offers a Cancer Survivorship Clinic to help patients transition from active treatment to cancer survivor. The Clinic provides a one-time visit with an Advanced Practice Nurse who will review your diagnosis, treatment summary and information, and common issues and side effects, as well as provide education on managing any physical, social or emotional issues you may experience. He or she can also review your schedule for follow-up visits and share lifestyle and wellness ideas to help you live your healthiest life.