Historically, cancer has been about the finish line — surviving.
Today, more and more, cancer is about living.
“We imagine the finish line and think once you get to the line, things will be different,” says Dr. Nancy Boutin, medical director of Salem Health’s Salem Cancer Institute. “But you have all of your life to put back together.”
With the U.S. cancer survivor population at more than 14 million and counting, the medical community has recognized that survivors still need support. The Salem Cancer Institute is looking to expand its reach to survivors through various programs, including education and a “passport” documenting all of the patients’ treatments and what to expect in the future. On June 8, the cancer institute hosted a celebration for National Cancer Survivors Day.
The Salem Cancer Institute has given out passports to 250 patients in the past year, Boutin said. In addition to patients’ medical records, the leather folder is also packed with resources and information.
The hope is that cancer survivors will continue to feel supported by the cancer institute, even if they’re finished with treatments.
“I would see a patient on the last day of radiation, and I’d say, ‘Great, you’re done with radiation,’ ” Boutin said. “I’d see mixed emotions. Some would actually say, ‘Now what? What am I supposed to do now?’ “
Studies show that cancer survivors can experience physical deficits and delayed side effects from treatments, as well as heightened fear and anxiety about potential recurrence and other health worries.
People with a history of cancer could also experience employment issues and financial distress.
Moving on after cancer often takes some healing — physically, emotionally and sometimes spiritually. The healing also involves loved ones, such as spouses and other family.
‘More to life than cancer’
Anne Jeter, 96, of Salem, has been a colon cancer survivor for 55 years.
Back then, medicine was different. Doctors didn’t consult with Jeter; medical professionals talked among themselves and decided what was best. And Jeter didn’t question things.
Jeter doesn’t know how far along her cancer was; that’s another thing doctors didn’t discuss back then, she said.
But they did remove Jeter’s entire colon, which was a “hotbed of polyps,” as she remembers being told. That was the end of her treatment.
Jeter remembers fearing how her husband would feel about her colostomy bag, but she was soon reassured.
“I thought it’s not the prettiest thing in the world and maybe my husband would be put off by it,” she said. “It didn’t make any difference to him.”
Jeter’s family has had an intimate history with cancer. More than half of her family members have had cancer; some didn’t survive. Still, she says, she has lived a fortunate life.
“There’s so much more to life than cancer,” Jeter said. “I mean, we’ve had our hobbies and friends, and we play bridge, and we go travel around. My husband and I had an angus ranch for 20 years. We were busy raising eight kids. You don’t have time to say to yourself, ‘How am I feeling? And what’s my attitude toward cancer today?’ “
Jeter, who is a third-generation rug hooker, has had her rugs displayed by the cancer institute.
Dennis Thompson, 73, knows he’s had a relatively easy time with cancer.
“I have not earned the (right) to be a whiner about my cancer,” he said. “I cannot do that, because most of the other people that I talk to have a journey that’s a lot rougher than mine.”
Still, Thompson’s journey recovering from prostate cancer has had an impact on his daily life and perspective.
After his cancer was treated through robotic surgery, Thompson has dealt with incontinence and erectile dysfunction. The incontinence went away after about a year, but Thompson continues to use Viagra.
Through compromise and adjustments — spontaneity has gone out the window, for example — he and and his wife, Gerrie Smith-Thompson, have regained a satisfying sex life, he said.
“Intimacy is really important for us,” Thompson said. “Some of that is sexual, but it’s also about touching, communication and consideration.”
Together, the couple have started a cancer support group at Salem Health called “Restoring Intimacy.”
Sexuality can be an issue for cancer survivors of various types, whether it’s men recovering from prostate cancer or women who have undergone double-mastectomies or people adjusting to surgery scars and hair loss.
Thompson believes that while everyone’s cancer story is unique, there’s enough similarities that people can learn from one another. He also volunteers as a peer navigator at the Salem Cancer Institute, supporting cancer patients.
Slowing it down
Kathrine Reed, 74, has beat breast cancer and lung cancer. Now, she’s facing throat cancer.
A smoker of 50 years, Reed knew the risks.
She calls 2013 the “cancer year.”
Reed was being treated for the breast cancer that was caught early during a routine mammogram when her surgeon recommended that she participate in Salem Health’s low-dose computed tomography lung cancer screening. Since she was a longtime smoker, she was a good candidate.
The screening caught her second cancer — small cell lung cancer — and again, in an early stage. Then this spring, Reed had an abnormality during a blood test, and she has since been diagnosed with throat cancer.
Again, it was caught early — technically, it’s not even stage 1, Reed said. Her doctors are optimistic that she’ll recover.
In large part, Reed has coped with cancer by keeping a green notebook.
“It’s green, because green is life,” she says.
The notebook is full of information about her cancers, which has helped her feel more in control of her care.
“I don’t dwell on the cancer,” Reed said. “You deal with it.”
Reed is an active volunteer with the League of Women Voters and the South Central Association of Neighbors, and living with cancer has allowed her to slow down and enjoy her retirement with her husband, she said.
“In some ways, we are closer,” she said. “We do a little more together.”
By Saerom Yoo
Original article: http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/health/2015/06/29/beating-cancer-survivors-pick-pieces/29450951/