Cancer Survivorship: Pathways to Health After Treatment:
Survivor-Researcher Mentor Program
Status of Cancer Survivorship Interventions
“Building a Bridge to Cancer Survivors” a personal reflection by Marion Burch Cimbala
President/Owner, Body Therapy Center
As a very recent cancer survivor, not professionally involved as a cancer advocate, attending the Cancer Survivorship Pathways to Health After Treatment conference was truly an eye-opening experience. It was not my first exposure to many of the issues a cancer survivor faces—I was already living with many of the issues—but it was the first time I realized the scope of knowledge about these issues, and how very much can, and should, be done to optimize life after cancer.
Understanding cancer as a chronic disease is a good first step in understanding what life is like once you have heard the words “you have cancer.” Even though I have known many people who have had cancer, I was largely unaware of the short and long-term physical, financial, and psychological effects of the diagnosis. Perhaps it is because we, individually and as a society, tend to focus on beating cancer, and then (for those that are lucky enough to do so) returning to our lives. Friends, family, and health care workers are sources of encouragement in this process. It is common to hear, “you can beat this” or “we’ll get to the bottom of this.” Those of us lucky enough to be told, “You don’t have any evidence of cancer anymore, we think we have gotten all the cancer, and we don’t think it will come back” are expected to move smoothly back into life, grateful that we don’t have cancer anymore, and being told how lucky we are.
The Pathways to Health conference provided exposure to in depth research and programming directed at improving quality of life for cancer survivors. We also reviewed the 2003-2004 Annual Report from the Presidents Cancer Panel, entitled Living Beyond Cancer: Finding a New Balance. This report was of particular interest because the information and recommendations encourage appropriate intervention from the medical community during and after treatment, which have the potential to positively impact the lives of every cancer survivor.
I believe the challenge before us is making access to the knowledge and recommendations in this report a reality for all cancer patients. Despite the fact that I received excellent medical care from my physicians, none of the recommendations in the Presidents Cancer Panel report were a part of my experience during or after treatment. My experience has been shared by others. I have attempted to follow up with the medical offices regarding several of the issues. It has been challenging, and mostly unsuccessful. As a businessperson, it seems logical that unless there are incentives in place to provide the recommended interventions to cancer patients, there is little hope of success in a medical system that is already challenged. If practical considerations prevent delivery of survivorship interventions through the traditional health care system, then perhaps consideration should be given to other innovative options for delivery of these interventions, such as the use of public health campaigns, or the Internet.
It is my intention to continue learning about and develop strategies for practical application of these programs of Living Beyond Cancer, so that we can ensure these recommendations can be provided to every cancer patient. Regardless of the how good the research, information, and programs are, and no matter how recommended survivorship interventions can improve the quality of our lives, unless cancer survivors hear the information, we have failed.