When you are actively fighting cancer, the battle is all-consuming. Any excess energy is used up just getting through one day after another. There is little time to think, much less plan, for life after cancer. But experience has shown that cancer survivors who create a long-range post-cancer health plan are more likely to thrive.
With improved early screenings, new cancer vaccines and integrated cancer treatments, your chances of surviving cancer are better than they have ever been before. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are now 13.7 million cancer survivors in the U.S. Sixty-four percent of American cancer survivors have passed their 5-year anniversary, and 40% have lived 10 or more years after winning their battle against cancer. By 2022, NCI expects the number of cancer survivors to reach 18 million. All the more reason to have an after-cancer plan.
To increase your chance of long-term survival, the Institute of Medicine recommends that every cancer survivor work with his or her medical team to create a personalized plan for staying healthy after cancer. To encourage survivors to take this important step for prolonging their lives, Dr. Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen, authors of the YOU health books, have been promoting what might be called a 5-step “YOU After Cancer” survivorship plan.
Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer should create a survivorship plan. Work with your oncologist and your Issels cancer treatment team to create a personalized plan. Plan building resources and sample survivor plans are available at JourneyForward.org. Some insurance companies may also offer plan writing services.
Surprising results of a new Yale University skin cancer study found that more than 25% of people who had survived malignant melanoma never use sunscreen. An even greater number of skin cancer survivors ignore advice to wear hats, long sleeves and slacks to protect their skin from additional sun damage and possible cancer reoccurrence. Perhaps most shocking was the admission by 2% of those surveyed that they had used a tanning bed after recovery from skin cancer.
On average, skin cancer survivors are more careful about protecting themselves from sun exposure than the general population. According to the study, 32% of cancer survivors always wear sunscreen, nearly twice as many as other adults. However, despite a risk of future melanoma that is 9 times greater than the norm, cancer survivors were as unlikely as their non-cancer peers take other preventive measures. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma kills 9,000 Americans each year.
University of Texas cancer researcher Mary Tripp told USA Today that it is not unusual for skin cancer survivors to let down their guard:
“When someone is first diagnosed, they are practicing sun protection, but as the years go by, maybe they tend to fall back on their old habits. A lot of melanoma survivors have told me that it is very important for them to maintain a normal outdoor lifestyle.”
If you have survived malignant melanoma, there’s no need to give up the outdoor activities you love; but it is smart to take measures to protect yourself against the return of skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation offers these guidelines:
Use a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
For everyday use, sunscreens of SPF 15 should offer adequate protection. For extended outdoor activity, choose a water-resistant sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.
For best protection, apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every 2 hours.
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, you need the support of people who have walked in the same shoes understand what you are going through. Online cancer support communities provide opportunities for patients, survivors and caregivers to help and support each other:
IHadCancer.com. Cancer survivors, patients and caregivers share stories, successes and treatment experiences. Site users can filter searches by gender, age, year of diagnosis, type of diagnosis and their role as patient, survivor or caregiver.
CancerCare.org. Led by professional oncology social workers, Cancer Care groups are available for the most prevalent cancers. Also offered are support groups for post-treatment survivors, caregivers, loved ones, and bereavement/grief. Telephone and face-to-face support groups are also offered.
American Cancer Society. A clearinghouse for all things related to cancer, this multi-language site provides educational information on cancer topics, current cancer research, clinical trials, staying healthy, and other treatment tools and resources. Online support communities are hosted for patients, survivors, family and caregivers. Phone, email and local support are also available.
CancerSupportCommunity.org. Online support groups, distress screening and emotional support services for patients, family and caregivers are among the educational and support services provided. A special online support group for teens is also available. Site users can create their own webpage to keep friends and family updated on their cancer journey. Helpful information is provided on parenting through cancer and other issues families face when a loved one has cancer.