Supporting our survivors

Published 5:43 pm Friday, June 7, 2019


National Cancer Survivor’s Day was recognized on June 2, although many cancer survivors see every day as a celebration. It is one day further from learning their diagnosis, one less treatment and one less medical appointment. With this celebration, though, also comes a fear of the unknown. Will my cancer return? Will I have complications from my treatments? Will I continue to be a productive member of society?

According to the National Cancer Institute, “An individual is considered a cancer survivor from the time of diagnosis, through the balance of his or her life. Family members, friends and caregivers are also impacted by the survivorship experience and are therefore included in this definition.” The Office of Cancer Survivorship further quantifies that as of January 2019, there are 16.9 million cancer survivors with that number expected to increase to 29.1% by 2029. Between 1971 and 2007, the number of survivors grew from 3 million to 11.7 million.

Increasing survival rates can be attributed to cancer prevention and screening, early detection and innovative treatments. The Office of Cancer Survivorship statistics show that 67% of survivors have survived five or more years after diagnosis, 45% have survived 10 or more years, and 18% have survived 20 or more years. As the number of survivors continues to increase, there will need to be an increased awareness in the physical and psychosocial short and long-term effects. Therefore, it is imperative that we all are educated on the unique needs of cancer survivors.

A cancer survivor and their caregivers can be faced with a multitude of issues beginning on the day of diagnosis and sometimes lasting throughout their lifetime. For example, it has been found that almost 75% of childhood cancer survivors will develop a chronic medical problem within 30 years of diagnosis. Whether treatment consists of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or any combination, cancer survivors may experience adverse effects associated with their treatment. Adverse effects may develop at any time during treatment, shortly after completion or even many years down the road. In addition to adverse effects, there are also psychological and social issues that patients may face. Depression, anxiety, fear and difficulty returning to or participating in work or school, obtaining insurance and fitting back into society are all potential hazards to watch for.

There has been a strong focus on cancer survivorship since 1986 when the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship was formed. The same can be said for childhood cancers with the development of long-term follow up clinics and guidelines established through the Children’s Oncology Group. Several other organizations have embraced the concept of survivorship care, including individual cancer centers across the country and those who seek or maintain accreditation status. There are now several long-term follow up clinics that specialize in survivorship issues for adults. Support groups for survivors are found online and throughout the community. The use of survivorship care plans and treatment summaries assist patients and their caregivers to maintain crucial details about their treatment and survivorship.

The Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center is committed to caring for patients throughout their cancer journeys, including survivorship issues. Once a patient has completed his or her cancer treatment, they meet with a provider to discuss a summary of their treatment. We are able to review current or potential long-term effects of their treatments and discuss psychosocial, physical or financial concerns providing an array of resources available to them. We encourage our patients to be proactive with their care and they are provided with a copy of their Survivorship Care Plan.

As the number of cancer survivors continues to grow, there is a great need for support. Cancer survivors are unique because they have the potential to face a multitude of complications and comorbidities. The medical community should stay updated on the short and long-term needs of cancer survivors as they become integrated back into the primary care setting. We can all do our part by being aware of ways to support cancer survivors as they return to their daily routines at work and school.

The Shepard Cancer Foundation and Vidant Beaufort Hospital came together to host our 3rd-annual Shepard Family Fun Day on May 4. More than 200 people attended to celebrate our cancer survivors and their caregivers. They participated in face painting, arts and crafts, bingo, yoga, massage, a cake walk, dancing, photo booth, raffles and a delicious catered meal. Because of the overwhelming feedback about how much our survivors enjoyed the Fun Day, it will be an annual event to celebrate our cancer survivors. Congratulations to all of you and we will continue to celebrate with you each day!

Nicole Davia, PA-C, and Rebecca Simmons, MSN, RN, AGCNS-BC, OCN, of the Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center, Vidant Beaufort Hospital, can be reached at 252-975-4308.