Nearly 14 million Americans have been diagnosed with cancer. Although the rate of people who get cancer is going down,
the overall number of people who have cancer is going up. The number of people who are 65 years old or older is expected
to grow to 71 million by 2030—twice the number of people in this age group as compared to 2000. People also are living longer after being told they have cancer, due to improvements in finding cancer early and better cancer treatments.
In this Health News article, we will highlight tips for cancer survivors given by Dr. Masey Ross, Hematology-Oncology Fellow at Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) Massey Cancer Center and VCU Health. We will also recognize several people in our community who are celebrating being cancer survivors.
“Cancer survivorship begins at diagnosis.” says Dr. Ross. “For patients who are nearing completion of their cancer treatment and in remission, there are several goals of survivorship care. These include preventing new and recurrent cancers, developing a tailored strategy for surveillance and follow-up, addressing any residual or late effects of cancer treatment and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”
Below are some general guidelines that might help get you thinking about how best to achieve these goals:
- As you are nearing completion of the active treatment portion of your cancer care, ask your cancer care provider to create a summary outlining the treatment you received as well as the dates of treatment.
- Some chemotherapy agents and radiation treatments can have side effects that persist or occur later in life, after your therapy has finished. These are known as late effects or late toxicities. Having a summary of your prior treatments can help your doctors monitor for late toxicities.
- It is important for cancer survivors to keep up with regular cancer screening. In some cases, having a diagnosis of a particular type of cancer can increase the risk of developing a second cancer. This can be due to genetic susceptibilities or to shared exposures. For example, patients with a smoking history who are diagnosed with lung cancer may be at increased risk of developing head and neck cancer due to the damage smoking causes to the aerodigestive tract. Ask your oncologist or primary care doctor about tailoring your cancer screening.
- It is important to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Physical activity and exercise regimens should be tailored in conjunction with your doctor to account for your abilities and preferences. General recommendations are to strive to engage in daily physical activity.
- Try to maintain a diet high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and limit your intake of red meats, and refined sugars. It is important to maintain a healthy weight. Limit alcohol intake. If you are currently a smoker, try to quit smoking. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about the best way to approach your smoking cessation as they may have some ideas about behavior changes or medications that can help. Practice sun safety. Wear a sunscreen with SPF of at least 30 that is water resistant. Wear hats and long sleeves, and avoid direct sun exposure during peak hours whenever possible.
- It is not uncommon for survivors to experience anxiety, worry, or mood changes that persist beyond cancer diagnosis and treatment. If you experience these feelings, talk to your doctor. Depending on the severity, there are a variety of interventions that may be helpful including support groups, individual counseling, meditation, creative therapies like art or music, or others.
The above recommendations are based on the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Survivorship Guidelines. Please talk to your doctor for specific recommendations about your survivorship care. It is our hope that with implementation of some of these practices, you will live a long, healthy and fulfilling life.
Urban Views Weekly also wants to celebrate the cancer survivors and heroes right in our own Richmond community!
Name: Keisha Harris
In 2012, I was living in Hawaii with my then-fiancé when my life went from a dream to a nightmare. What was originally diagnosed as a kidney infection turned out to be stage 4 cervical cancer that had spread to my kidney and spinal cord. After enduring countless treatments, I moved back to the East Coast to be closer to my family.
The treatments had damaged my organs so badly that I had to undergo a very risky procedure called a total pelvic exenteration, which involved the removal of my gastrointestinal, urinary and reproductive organs. Without the procedure, I was told I had less than seven weeks to live.
I took recovery one step at a time and in 6 months I was back at the gym. I encourage others to draw positivity from those around them and to never lose hope. I have written a book about my experience called Warrior 917: Lessons Before Living, and volunteer regularly at VCU Massey Cancer Center.
Name: Erinn Budd
In September 2015 I was diagnosed with Adrenal Cancer, after many months of testing from my doctors. I had surgery one month later to remove the tumor and my left adrenal gland. Post surgery, I was in and out of the hospital for a few months before I was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in June 2016. Since my diagnosis, I have worked with my doctors to closely monitor the growth of the 5 tumors on my pancreas. If they do grow in any size, I will have to have surgery. Until then, I’m just thankful to wake up every day.
Name: Carrie Persing
I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in May of 2014, the same weekend I participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Due to a prior suspicious biopsy and a family history of breast cancer, I was having biopsies taken every six months.
I elected to undergo a double mastectomy, followed by microsurgical reconstruction. The surgery lasted 15 hours, but I am now cancer free almost three years later.
I feel fortunate that my cancer was caught early when others have had to endure so much. I encourage everyone to be vigilant; to talk to their doctor about a personalized screening plan based on their family’s health; and to ask questions and play a role in determining the right course of care if they are diagnosed.
Name: Anita Whitlow
I was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in December of 2014. It has been a rough journey. I have had plenty of reasons to give up, but I consider myself blessed and choose to stay strong and remain positive.
Nobody ever expects to get colorectal cancer, but you need to get screened if you’re over 50 so you can catch it early. And if you think something is wrong, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. If you do have cancer, be strong, stay positive and fight. Don’t give up, don’t skip appointments and always make sure you ask questions and follow up with your doctor.
Name: Roberta Carter
I have been fighting breast cancer since I was first diagnosed in 2003. I have had several recurrences, but I choose to be positive and trust in my care team at VCU Massey Cancer Center. I’ve learned throughout the years that you must stay focused, determined, unmovable, and remain on the course to the finish line.
I try to use my experience to help others who are going through the same thing I did. When you’re first diagnosed you can feel secluded, so I try to open the door a little bit to let people know there is hope and to keep the faith.
Name: Donna Sarver
I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in December of 2011 despite having never smoked. It was a shock. I was in disbelief when I heard the cancer had already spread throughout my body.
My oncologist ordered a test and found my cancer was caused by a rare genetic mutation. Fortunately, there was a drug that targeted this mutation and after only a few treatments I went from barely being able to breathe to feeling almost normal.
I am not cured, but my cancer is being controlled by my current treatments. I have been able to see my son and daughter graduate high school and start college. I’ve come to realize that every day is truly a blessing, and I plan to use my energy to spread love and happiness.
Name: Tim Sanderson
I have been diagnosed with cancer twice. More than 20 years ago, I was treated for a tumor on one of my salivary glands. Then, nearly 10 years later after becoming a father to my twins, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Both experiences were terrifying, but I will never forget the incredible support that I received from everyone around me.
I’ve been cancer free for nearly 10 years. I started running in an effort to be healthier and get back in touch with my body. I also got involved with the Cancer Hope Network, which pairs cancer survivors with patients currently undergoing treatment. I encourage everyone to listen to their body and see their doctor if they think anything is out of the ordinary.