JANUARY 24, 2018
One of the worst words that someone can hear is "You have cancer". Nearly every family we know has had to deal with a family member or themselves who have been diagnosed. I have lost both my parents and my brother to cancer. I have supported other friends and family as they have struggled through the various treatments that ultimately allowed them to beat cancer. From the time of diagnosis through the completion of care, the entire focus is on surviving the disease. As well it should be. But what about quality of life once you have heard those words "You are cancer free." There can be many quality of life issues following all the interventions that allowed someone to be a survivor.
Not enough emphasis has been put on addressing pain, fatigue, weakness, emotional distress or any of the many consequences of treatment. Fortunately there are many services available to help with just this. This could be related to nutritional, psychological, and physical deficits. However, these services may or may not be offered to every patient and therefore you would have to seek them out for yourself. This is a result of our compartmentalized health care system. Everyone is focused on their area of expertise and when cancer is involved, the main focus is on curing and surviving. But to all of those who are survivors, know that your quality of life matters.
In my area of expertise I have had the distinct pleasure to help restore some of this quality of life for my patients. Having seen my own immediate family members struggle with issues that were a consequence of the treatment therapies they received opened my eyes to how significantly their daily life was impacted. Some areas of treatment focus on restoring your strength, endurance, and ability to be mobile. Lesser known treatments through physical therapy are those that address the changes that have occurred with bowel, bladder, and sexual function. These in particular are very difficult for people to discuss with their health care providers due to embarrassment or difficulty in discussing such intimate bodily functions that no longer function properly. Your health care provider may not bring this up so you will have to be your own advocate and broach the subject of your symptoms yourself. And if they don’t know exactly where to refer, don’t be frustrated. There are many resources available on line which can at least help guide you in the right direction.
Outside of physical therapy interventions are those that address nutrition and mental health issues. It’s not just about surviving. It is about living the fullest, healthiest and happiest life that you can. Cancer takes a lot from you but don’t let it take your quality of life. Reach out. There are many health care providers eager to help you ease back into your post-cancer life.