Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a life changing moment. And it’s a new reality that many Canadians are living with every single day. According to Cancer Care Ontario, more than 90,000 people will be diagnosed in this province this year alone.
There is a lot to consider and work through. The emotional aspects, the treatment considerations, the family dynamics and a lot of uncertainty. And when your course of treatment is done, how will you know what to do next? At the latest Sunnybrook Speaker Series event — Cancer: Now What? — Angela Leahey talked about living your life beyond cancer.
It’s important to know that it’s normal to not feel “normal”, however that was defined before you were diagnosed and underwent cancer treatment, says Leahey, professional lead in oncology nursing at Sunnybrook. The cancer journey brings about many physical and emotional changes, and the uncertainty presented by your “new normal” following treatment can be very challenging.
Leahey says some common changes brought on by chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and/or medication can include:
- body changes
- tingling in the hands and feet
- memory issues
- aches and pains
- mobility issues
- lymphedema (fluid retention and tissue swelling)
- sexual health issues
- the ability to manage difficult emotions
The fear of the cancer coming back is the number one concern for all cancer survivors, says Leahey. The risk of a cancer recurrence or a new cancer developing is different for everyone, she says, and it’s an important discussion to have with your health care team. Cancer patients are followed by an oncologist for the period of time when a recurrence is highest, and then care is usually transferred back to the family doctor.
Leahey says it’s important for patients to have regular follow-up visits with their family doctor, even in the absence of symptoms. And while new symptoms don’t always mean the cancer has recurred, patients should connect with their doctor if they experience any of the following:
- a new lump or growth
- changes in the area of the body where the cancer occurred
- a new pain that won’t go away
- a cough that doesn’t clear up
- persistent fatigue
- unexplained weight loss, or loss of appetite
- numbness in the arms, hands, legs or feet
- new swelling in the arm or leg on the same side as the cancer
In addition to checking on new symptoms, family doctors can help manage the long-term effects of cancer treatment, monitor for cancer recurrence, screen for new or other cancers and can oversee a patient’s mental and physical health and wellness. Patients should also strive for a healthy body weight, eating well and staying active, taking medications as ordered and paying attention to their mental wellbeing.
Watch Leahey’s presentation here or view the entire Sunnybrook Speaker Series event below: