Where once a diagnosis of cancer meant despair and hopelessness for patients stricken with the disease, thanks to tremendous advances in medicine and ongoing research around the world, survival is no longer just a dream for many, but an expected outcome.
On June 5, the world honors those who have fought, and stand in living tribute to the growing list of successes in the battle against cancer. The 29th annual National Cancer Survivors Day is also intended to help recently diagnosed individuals understand that cancer can be beaten with help and inspiration from their doctors, nurses, caregivers, families and friends ... and with a solid plan for meeting the challenges head-on.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 14 million American cancer survivors are living longer after diagnosis thanks in large part to advances in early detection and treatment. In fact, the CDC reports that two out of every three people with cancer are expected to live at least five years after diagnosis and the earlier the detection, the greater the likelihood for survival well beyond five years.
Validating the more promising outlook was a study done by the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute in 2012 which revealed that 15 percent of survivors - as of the study date - had been diagnosed 20 or more years prior.
In a November 2015 report, the CDC projected the number of cancer survivors in the U.S. will swell to about 24 million by 2025. A testament to modern medicine's greater understanding of how to combat the disease and the ever-improving diagnostic and treatment methods being deployed on a daily basis.
Funding, of course, is critical to keeping cancer research on an upward trajectory. Continued appropriations from government - and significant private support - are leading to more and better treatment options and may push survivorship numbers beyond the CDC's rosy outlook in the years ahead.
However, we all have within ourselves an innate ability that can provide a significant complement to the medications and therapies we offer as healthcare providers. A positive attitude and a strong will to beat cancer can help support favorable patient outcomes for long-term survival.
Legendary UCLA hall-of-fame basketball coach John Wooden had a famous saying that applies here: Failing to plan, is planning to fail. His message is applicable, not just in sports, but to life, and certainly it is apropos for cancer survivors.
It is essential for survivors to have a plan. Sadly, many do not, and it is a distressing reality that a patient without a plan has a gap in their treatment regimen that may have negative consequences.
A survivor with a plan is empowered with knowledge regarding what therapies and tests are needed and at what intervals. No two patients are exactly alike, so each survivor should have a customized medical plan that provides a proverbial roadmap for sharing information and scheduling treatments relative to their own condition(s) with their doctors so that the best care possible can be rendered.
I tell patients to stick with a plan - even after active treatment for their cancers may have concluded - and know that their plan should encompass all of their healthcare providers. Cancer survivors often become accustomed to the care given in treatment of their respective cancers and many believe they can forego their primary care physicians.
Primary care is still very important to managing all of the patient's needs and to control chronic conditions that may or may not be related to cancer. A patient may become so focused on overcoming their cancer they ignore other vital diagnostic tests like mammograms, colonoscopies, prostate exams, routine physicals, etc.
Key takeaways for survivors:
- Know who you need to see, when you need to see them, what tests you need and when, and what medications you need to take and for what duration for long-term health and quality of life.
- Have a comprehensive plan to help assure you stay on track.
- Combine quality medical care across multiple disciplines, a positive "can do" attitude and a clear plan to get well and stay well.
Kim Randolph, MSN, FNP-BC, works in the Survivorship Department at Cancer Treatment Centers of America where she cares for patients with a range of conditions. She is board-certified by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She is trained in Advanced Cardiac Life Support and is a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.