By G. van Londen, M.D., M.S.
Sunday marks National Cancer Survivors Day, a day set aside to celebrate those who have survived cancer and offer support to those who have been diagnosed with cancer.
From the day of diagnosis, you
are a cancer survivor. Even though there
are more than 13 million cancer survivors in the U.S. today, the perception of many
survivors’ about cancer is still highly influenced by confusion, fear and
false information. Here are some common myths:
Myth: The side effects of cancer treatment are
always severe and there is nothing I can do about it.
Weighing the risks and benefits
for your long-term health, your oncologist (cancer specialist) recommends
cancer treatments that have been proven to work against your specific cancer. Depending on the treatment, emotional and physical
side effects may affect your quality of life or ability to perform daily
activities. However, various treatments
can ease many of the side effects that occur during or linger after treatment
is completed. It is also vital to note
that cancer treatment is a joint decision between you and your doctor. If your symptoms are not acceptable, you
should discuss the issues with your health care providers to determine which
treatment or changes would be most appropriate for your unique situation.
Myth: My oncologist only wants to hear about
life-threatening side effects, not about things like the fact that I am tired
all the time; I should just feel lucky to be alive.
During and after treatment,
cancer survivors confront many issues that are not life threatening, but are
very important to health and wellbeing. The most common of these concerns include
fatigue, cognitive (memory) problems, sexual problems, financial issues and
problems at work. While your oncologist may not be the person to provide help
with all of these, he or she is in a position to connect you to resources that
CAN provide help. No problem is too
small when it comes to survivorship, and for most things, the sooner you get
help, the sooner you can move toward feeling better.
Myth: If I don’t constantly maintain a positive
attitude, I am more likely to die from cancer.
There is no evidence that a
positive attitude will have an impact on your long-term cancer outcomes. Being
positive can help you keep your spirits up and improve your quality of life
during and after cancer treatment, but it’s important to not feel obligated to
stay positive all the time. Everyone who
goes through cancer has ups and downs, and it is vital to let yourself experience
whatever emotions you are feeling and to ask for help if you need it.
Myth: Since I already have cancer, I don’t need to
worry about healthy habits or getting my routine health check-ups.
This is simply untrue. Cancer survivors are often so busy with their
cancer, cancer treatment and pursuing care for related symptoms that the care
for their non-cancer issues gets a lower priority. However, over the last few
decades, statistics have shown that cancer survivors are living longer after
their cancer diagnosis. This means that
it is becoming more important for cancer survivors to stay in touch with their
primary care physician and other healthcare providers for routine health
maintenance, such as screening for other cancers and monitoring of lipids,
glucose, thyroid, bone health and the like. In addition, a healthier lifestyle including consuming less nicotine and alcohol, eating a healthier diet and increasing your physical activity level may be able to improve your cancer
and non-cancer related outcomes as well as your bothersome symptoms, although
it cannot guarantee a 100 percent prevention or resolution. Many cancer survivors need guidance in
regards to making healthy lifestyle changes. Consult your health care providers to help you determine which healthful
changes and routine check-ups are best for you.
Myth: I am
already so tired from my cancer treatments; exercise is only going to make that
Exercise is known to help your heart, strength, fitness,
overall and even cancer-related health. In addition, research has shown
that physical activity may actually improve your physical and emotional
symptoms, like fatigue. Every little bit
helps - even an increase of just 10 minutes a day beyond your normal daily
activities! In general, cancer survivors
should be able to perform any physical activity that they want, as long as they
have received clearance from their healthcare providers. If you have functional limitations that prevent
you from taking part in physical activity or if you would need guidance for how
to best start or increase your physical activity program, it might be useful to
meet with a physical therapist or cancer-certified personal trainer.