(9) Life after Breast Cancer
What is survivorship medicine?
An exciting transformation has taken place about what it means to be affected by cancer. Rather than seeing and being seen as an unfortunate “victim,” individuals see and feel themselves empowered as survivors or “thrivers.”
A recent feature article in Psychology Today notes that survivorship is increasingly common, with approximately 11.4 million Americans well after treatment. Survivors are often vocal about their experiences and may feel empowered by their diagnosis and their experiences undergoing difficult, but effective, treatment strategies.
Increasingly, celebrities make public disclosure of their cancer diagnosis and see spreading the word as a profound aspect of their public persona. New research on the survivorship experience suggests that when individuals with cancer emerge victorious after experiencing highly intense medical treatments, relationship stressors, and other life changes, they are more resilient and demonstrate qualities of personal strength and vitality that they never knew they had. The survivorship philosophy is now embraced and well supported by a new movement in health care. Survivorship medicine focuses on optimizing prevention and wellness after cancer. Prevention of other diseases caused by
initial cancer care is also addressed. Healthcare providers who practice this form of care are committed to cancer prevention and early detection, as well as using medications, behavior modification, exercise, diet, stress management, counseling, sex therapy, and alternative medical approaches to ensure quality of life for cancer survivors.
Survivorship medicine emphasizes living with disease diagnosis and disease prevention rather than focusing on disease-imposed limitations or restrictions. It sees a patient as a survivor rather than as a victim and addresses complex post cancer issues such as pain management, family systems, and minimization of disability.
Magnolia Myrick: I don’t suppose you ever feel quite the same after having cancer. Even if the doctors say they’ve “gotten it all,” the fact of it lingers. You know it happened, and you know it can happen again. Even sometime in the distant future! Not a great thing to have hanging over your head. And hanging. But you don’t have to stand there under it all the time, either, now do you?
What I don’t always know is how other people feel about me after having cancer. Do they see me as weak? Sickly? “Damaged goods”? Some probably do. And that’s their problem. I can’t remember who said, “What other people think of me is none of my business,” but it’s a great saying. And the truth is other people are not sitting around thinking about me all that much anyway. They might gossip about me for a few minutes, but then they’ll go right back to thinking about themselves and their own problems, like they always do.
As a practical matter, I didn’t tell the people I worked with about having cancer. I am a self-employed freelance writer, and I didn’t want editors to avoid giving me assignments because they didn’t think I was up to it. I wanted to make that decision, thank you. So I kept word of my health status to close friends and family. Now you can’t always control what people know about you, but I let it be known that I wanted to be very low key about it. I didn’t want it to be what my life was about. I also didn’t want to exhaust myself talking about it to people I wasn’t close to.
Another thing that changes after cancer is how you feel about other people, namely friends and family who may-or may not-have been a great support to you. Cancer is nothing if not a test of character, for the patient and for the patient’s family and friends as well. Yes, some people will perceive you differently, or even fearfully, because you’ve had cancer. And while it is well and good to say they feel this way because of their own fears and insecurities, I think it is also due to a lack of character. I wouldn’t necessarily end a relationship over it, but I would see it differently and value it less, frankly.
Survivorship medicine emphasizes living with disease diagnosis and disease prevention rather than focusing on disease imposed limitations or restrictions.