Read Time: 4 minutes
Author: Laurie Coleman, LCSW, social worker
Cancer survivorship is a term with different meanings to different people. Some patients find that they appreciate life more and find it easier to accept themselves as they are. Others have a hard time coping and adjusting after active cancer treatment ends. For some, treatment never ends, and they deal with cancer and its effects every day. Laurie Coleman, LCSW, social worker at Huntsman Cancer Institute, fields some frequently asked questions about survivorship and offers support to those looking for answers.
What is cancer survivorship?
I have the privilege of running a Women’s Cancer Survivorship Group at Huntsman Cancer Institute. This group began in 2017 and is still active. Since starting the support group, the definition of survivorship has shifted and is now more relatable for all of our patients. Initially the term was defined as a patient who had completed cancer treatment and was considered “cancer free.” However, there were other patients who also identified themselves as ‘survivors’ who were living with cancer and metastatic disease.
Cancer survivorship now includes all stages of cancer and is defined by The National Cancer Institute (NIH): “In cancer, survivorship focuses on the health and well-being of a person with cancer from the time of diagnosis until the end of life. This includes the physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial effects of cancer that begin at diagnosis and continue through treatment and beyond. The survivorship experience also includes issues related to follow-up care (including regular health and wellness checkups), late effects of treatment, cancer recurrence, second cancers, and quality of life. Family members, friends, and caregivers are also considered part of the survivorship experience.”
What are some mental health resources for ‘cancer survivorship’?
Huntsman Cancer Institute understands the importance of holistic health for patients with cancer. Our social workers and support groups address mental, emotional, social, and financial effects of cancer. Social workers, chaplains, child life specialists, and patient coordinators are available to assist patients and their families. Please contact us at 801-213-5699 or make an appointment.
Social workers are assigned by clinic and cancer type. They are also located at community clinic locations in South Jordan, Sugar House, and Farmington. Please ask your medical team if you are interested in a face-to-face visit, phone call, or email and we will contact you! We can assist any specific mental health needs you may have by providing support at Huntsman Cancer Institute and in the community.
Is it normal to feel depressed or anxious after cancer treatment has concluded?
Yes! We often hear, “Why do I now feel more depressed or anxious, even though I have finished treatment and been told by my medical team to go live my life?”
Sometimes, when you receive a cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, you are overwhelmed with appointments, schedules, choices, and managing your daily responsibilities. You work hard to follow recommendations and deal with side effects. Priorities shift and responsibilities and relationships may even change. This process is life changing. Once you have completed treatment or have reached a maintenance schedule, there is still so much to sort out with family, friends, spirituality, work, activities, hobbies, etc. This experience contributes to so many aspects of your life, including your mood and emotions.
What can you do if you are having a hard time in ‘cancer survivorship’?
You are not alone. You can ask for help. Please reach out to your medical team and let them know you would like to talk with a member of our team. Talking out your thoughts and worries can help you find the clarity you need. Consider writing down your worries, thoughts, and questions—this can be a great place to start.
You may have a lot of support from friends and family and still struggle. Having someone to talk to outside of your support network may feel helpful. I often hear patients say they do not want to burden their loved ones with repetitive thoughts and worries. Others share that their support network has “moved on” from them. These are common concerns that we hear and great reasons to ask for additional or different support. We look forward to visiting with you and promise to listen!
If you have questions, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.