Transitioning to Cancer Recovery
It is just as important to plan for success after cancer treatment as it is before beginning it, experts say.
In 2006, the Institute of Medicine (the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences) recommended that every cancer patient receive an individualized survivorship care plan that includes guidelines for monitoring and maintaining his or her health going forward.
Dr. Patricia A. Ganz, director of cancer prevention and control research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, has worked with the National Institutes of Health on this issue for years as a researcher and a clinician. She specializes in treating cancer survivors.
“Patients were telling us that they were lost in transition,” she said. “That’s because we do a lot to prepare them to go through the treatment, but there is not the same kind of preparation for the long-term effects of treatment.”
Ganz said that receiving a detailed copy of their records, plus a plan for the future, helps patients tremendously. These care plans should include a summary of treatments received and recommendations on which healthcare providers the patient should see in the future and what tests to get .
“This is important because things can come up years later. It also helps their primary doctor,” Ganz said.
If you’re a patient in recovery and you did not receive a care plan, there are resources you can use to get one.
Journeyforward.org is a site Ganz helped develop that has a survivorship care plan builder. Patients, doctors and nurses can use it. There is also Livestrongcareplan.org, created by the University of Pennsylvania.
Transitioning to a successful recovery also includes nonmedical things like emotional and psychosocial support, and coping with physical changes.
Organizations like Susan G. Komen and the American Cancer Society strive to create community around cancer survivors.
Janice Chow-Ng of the American Cancer Society in Los Angeles works on free programs that enhance everyday life for patients and survivors. They include a volunteer ride program to treatments, discount lodging, a skincare and makeup program, peer mentoring and an online social network.
One important aspect in the transition to recovery, particularly in breast cancer patients, is appearance, Chow-Ng said. “Women lose eyelashes and eyebrows and hair, and it’s critical to address that,” she said.
The American Cancer Society’s Look Good Feel Better program provides makeup and skincare kits, plus a class to help women deal with appearance-related side effects of treatment. They also learn how to style a wig.
Other American Cancer Society programs, such as Reach To Recovery, allow survivors to give back. In Reach To Recovery, a newly diagnosed breast cancer patient is paired with a breast cancer survivor, who mentors and comforts the patient in person or by phone.
“As a result of participating in these programs, people have formed lifelong friendships, or they decide to give back by becoming volunteers themselves,” Chow-Ng said. “They believe in it because they benefited from it.”
Originally published in the Los Angeles Times, Cancer Innovations section on June 18, 2014.