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"...written by a physician who is also a cancer survivor... answers the questions that the survivor's doctor, whose job ends when treatment ends, may not be available to answer nor indeed know how to answer."
Most of you would like to put your whole cancer experience completely behind you. You would like to say, "I had cancer, but it's all over now. I am, or soon will be, as healthy as I was before I got sick. I can go back to my routine medical care."
Can you really face your future by ignoring your history of cancer? Should you? Unless your doctors have given you a 100 percent guarantee that your cancer will never come back, you will have some concern about recurrent cancer. Depending on what treatment you received, your body will need to recuperate. And many treatments cause their own problems, in the short run or the long run.
Your health is not the same as it was before you developed cancer. Your knowledge about the vulnerability of your health is painfully changed. Believing that you are back to the way you were before cancer may save you immediate anxiety about possible future problems. But it would be at an enormous cost to you, emotionally and physically.
There are many reasons why you should continue learning about your cancer. In the short run, you can take steps to prevent or minimize problems, and thus maximize and speed your recovery. In the long run, knowledge allows you to take measures to help prevent future problems such as recurrent cancer (recurrence) or the development of a new type of cancer.
You have met the challenge of treatments. But your situation is like that of a marathon runner, whose efforts are not over at the end of the race. Successful runners arecareful about their recovery. For days afterward they get extra fluids, nutrients, and rest. They know that it takes weeks to get their primed, but spent, bodies completely back to normal.
Given that an optimally conditioned runner has to make adjustments to recover from a race, imagine the needs of a competitive runner who sprains her ankle. She has to decide how to deal with her injury. She can ignore the injury and risk further injury while performing at less than peak performance. Or she can find out what to do to maximize and speed her recovery. This may mean slowing down or even stopping her training schedule for a while. If, after complete healing, some ankle weakness remains, she can act as if there were no problem, running in pain and risking recurrent injury. Or she can learn about modifications to make in her shoes, running style, training schedule, or running route that would allow continued, though changed, running..
Your cancer and treatment caused changes in your body that can take days, weeks, months, or even years to disappear. Some changes may be permanent. Like the runner, you will feel better and heal faster if you learn about the changes in your body and the ways to help yourself recover.
Many survivors who have completed treatment struggle with a sense of vulnerability and an urgent desire to do something to help protect their renewed health. Learning what you can do to stay healthy will allow you to regain a sense of control and will maximize your chance of staying healthy.
After cancer, you may feel bombarded by information about what causes, cures, or prevents cancer. Newspapers and magazines, books, and well-meaning friends and family offer frightening, exciting, confusing, and often contradictory messages. Knowledge can help you sort out useful facts from inaccurate or misleading stories.
Each year brings advances in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. In the future, new options for screening, follow-up, and preventive measures for your type of cancer may be offered to you. Staying informed about your medical situation after cancer will make it easier for you to appreciate the benefits of these developments.
This chapter will help you to understand what is happening medically after your treatment is complete and to participate in your own care. It reviews the medicine of reevaluation, recovery, and long-term care after cancer. The text assumes that you have a working knowledge of the basics of cancer medicine as it applies to a newly diagnosed cancer, patient, "Diagnosis," "prognosis," "staging," "biopsy," and "scan" are all terms covered in Diagnosis: Cancer: Your Guide through the First Few Months.
Restaging is the evaluation after your treatment is completed, to determine
After Cancer. Copyright © by Wendy S. Harpham. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.