“Exploring the Needs of Child and Adolescent Survivors” a personal reflection by Sara Elizabeth Rudolph
Advocate, Colleges Against Cancer/Relay for Life
Many people my age experience life without worry. I have not been blessed with those circumstances. At 21 years old, I have been a cancer survivor for 6 years. As much as I’d like to live “worry free,” I know that recognizing my health history and being aware of my body and possible late-term affects are both important to maintaining a long life. In many ways, I’d like to place my diagnosis behind me and “go on” with life. However, the effects of my treatment both emotionally and physically must be taken into account. This summer’s Cancer Survivorship conference alerted me to many concerns, questions, and future actions about my health.
Childhood and adolescent cancer survivors are reaching a unique transitional age where doctors and locations change and we often forget about our status as cancer survivors. It is of utmost importance that we learn all we can about our health history and possible late term effects so that we can live full and long lives.
The most encouraging portion of the research presented at the Cancer Survivorship Conference was that the research exists at all. In the past year, I have seen an enormous increase in research and discussion of survivorship. Still, the late effects of many treatments are more numerous than ever imagined. In reality, child and adolescent survivor risks for developing these late effects only increase with time. Radiation and chemotherapy (specifically alkalizing agents) are to blame. Over 60 percent of these survivors experience at least one late effect. We are prone to metabolic, endocrine, pulmonary, and cardiac problems. Much scarier, we are more prone to secondary cancers. On an emotional scope, we are at risk for developing depression and post traumatic stress disorder years down the road. Emotions and social situations have shifted far from what we once considered “normal.”
The research and health care communities are putting forth their best efforts to help with survivorship issues. Still, as survivors with long lives ahead of us, we have a personal responsibility to take a proactive approach to our health. Attaining a copy of medical records and learning specific concerns to remain aware of is the first priority. Also, obtaining and keeping up with follow-up guidelines is key (http://www.survivorshipguidelines.org/ ). Seeking support through a counselor or support group, starting an exercise plan, and learning to eat right are all necessary for ensuring a healthy future.
Many organizations are available to help with these issues as well. The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults (https://ulmanfund.org/ ), the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s new “Live Strong” Program (www.livestrong.org ), the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Survivor’s Network (www.cancer.org ), Fertile Hope (https://www.livestrong.org/we-can-help/livestrong-fertility/ ), and the Office of Cancer Survivorship (https://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/ocs/) all offer abundant information on follow-up care and survivorship issues.
Personally, I’ve already started with these plans. The earlier we start learning about our bodies and how to recognize potential late effects the more likely we will be to prevent and identify problems. No matter where life takes me, I will always carry the title of “Cancer Survivor” with me. I intend to insure the second word of the title defines my life from here on out.
The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government and they may not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes.