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Life After Surviving Cancer: The Relief, Challenges And New Fears

Eighteen-year-old cancer patient Patrick McGill lies in his hospital bed while receiving IV chemotherapy treatment for a rare form of cancer at the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center Childrens Hospital Aug. 18, 2005 in San Francisco, Calif. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Eighteen-year-old cancer patient Patrick McGill lies in his hospital bed while receiving IV chemotherapy treatment for a rare form of cancer at the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center Childrens Hospital Aug. 18, 2005 in San Francisco, Calif. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

On the other side of cancer treatment, survivors can face new challenges and fears. We look at ways to help.


Laura Landro, freelance contributor for the Wall Street Journal on medical and health issues. Former Wall Street Journal Informed Patient columnist and assistant managing editor. Author of “Survivor: Taking Control of Your Fight Against Cancer.” (@LauraALandro)

Julia Rowland, former director of the Office of Cancer Survivorship at the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. Senior strategic adviser at the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts. Co-editor of the first Handbook of Psycho-oncology, and creator of the first ever cancer survivorship program at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Sue Della Maddalena, cancer survivor and chief administrative officer of the Cancer Support Community in Phoenix, Arizona. She was diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago at the age of 31 and told she had a less than 10% chance of surviving.

From The Reading List

Wall Street Journal: “You’ve Survived Cancer. What Comes Next?” — “As more patients are successfully treated for cancer, a daunting new challenge awaits: navigating the physical and emotional challenges of being a survivor.

“When the treatment ends, the patients’ next journey is just beginning. They are left with new health issues often caused by the treatment itself, such as damage to the heart and other organs, or worsening high blood pressure and diabetes. Studies show many struggle with depression, fatigue and nagging fear that the cancer will return. Sexual function and personal relationships may suffer.

“Compounding it all, survivors often feel alone and adrift as they face those challenges. According to a new survey of cancer survivors by the nonprofit National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, few feel very prepared for the transition to posttreatment, nor informed about how to manage their health going forward.

“Their oncologists are focused on treating new cases, and their primary-care doctors have neither the time nor expertise to deal with the complexities of survivor needs.”

Wall Street Journal: “My Tale as a Cancer Survivor” — “Every year at about this time, I head west to Seattle. Surrounded by mountains and water, with the backdrop of the majestic Mount Rainier, the city is ideal for a pleasure trip in late summer or early fall. But I’m there for another reason: my annual checkup at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

“It has been 27 years since I chose the Hutch, as it is known, as the best place to have a bone-marrow transplant, after being diagnosed with the blood cancer chronic myelogenous leukemia. As cancer survivors, the chance that the cancer might come back is what we fear most, followed by the risk of secondary, or new, cancers that may have developed because of the toxicity of the original treatment.

“More efforts are under way to determine who is most at risk for recurrence in many cancers, and researchers are learning more about how genetic differences can influence that. But in the end, long-term surveillance and vigilance is the only way to know for sure.”

U.S. News & World Report: “Life After Cancer: the Importance of the Survivorship Movement” — “Anne Macy, 51, has been battling cancer for almost half of her life. Diagnosed at age 28 with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the real estate broker from Lansdale, Pennsylvania, has been hit with two other cancers since that first one was cured. What has helped her cope with all the turmoil with her sanity intact? The unflagging support of Linda Jacobs, the ‘angel on my shoulder’ who has checked in with Macy regularly to answer questions, see how she’s feeling physically and emotionally, and offer support and the occasional gentle prodding needed to get her through all the tests and follow-up that come with a cancer diagnosis.

“Jacobs, a nurse practitioner and clinical professor of nursing who directs the development of cancer survivorship programs at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center, may have even saved Macy’s life. When the protocol for ongoing surveillance of Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivors changed, Jacobs alerted her that she needed a breast MRI. That test revealed MALT lymphoma in Macy’s breast, and a follow-up PET scan uncovered a tumor behind her ear. ‘I can’t imagine getting through these life-altering events without Linda’s consistent aid,’ Macy says.

“The pioneering program at Penn, launched in 2001, now is one of dozens of hospital-based programs created across the country to provide long-term follow-up care – physical, emotional and even financial – to cancer survivors after treatment has ended. That’s a growing group. ‘We’re in a very different place than we were even in the 1990s,’ Jacobs says. ‘People are now living with cancer as a chronic illness.’ There are 15.5 million Americans now who are living as cancer survivors, and that number is expected to rise past 20 million by 2026 because of improvements in detection and treatment.”

Hilary McQuilkin produced this hour for broadcast.

This article was originally published on

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