Depending on the stage and type of cancer, recurrence is possible following treatment. It is important to be diligent with follow-up care to ensure that if the cancer does recur, it is found at an early stage when it is most treatable.
"Patients usually don't want to talk about their cancer returning, but the thought is almost always in the back of their head," says JaLisa Boyd, survivorship nurse navigator at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Medical City Healthcare. "We work to identify patient's fears and help them feel confident in their journey after treatment. I encourage my survivors to seek support if they are scared and remind them that it is normal to feel uneasy."
Following your care plan after treatment can help reduce your risk for cancer recurrence. Follow-up care may include weekly, monthly, bi-yearly or yearly visits to your doctor and tests may include X-rays, CT scans, MRIs or blood work.
"With advancements in therapies for many late stage patients, cancer care is being treated more like a chronic disease that can be managed," says Katie Narvarte, survivorship navigator at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Medical City Healthcare. "Survivorship care is another stage of the cancer journey. Your cancer may be gone, but keeping it gone is a battle in itself. By staying diligent with follow-up care, patients can proactively manage prevention and early detection in their journey."
Follow-up cancer care can also include peer support groups, meditation, healthy eating, exercising or even volunteering to help other cancer patients.
Many cancer survivors find comfort in peer support groups, where they can talk to other cancer patients and cancer survivors. Fellow survivors can understand what is going on in each other's lives and share tips for coping.
"Peer interaction, so many times, is able to alleviate the cancer survivor's fear of recurrence," says Katie. "I've seen patients, who have had their cancer recur, tell their story and instead of upsetting or scaring one of the first-time cancer patients, it inspires them. It shows them that if they had to go through this cancer journey again, they could and that they are not alone."
The timing of when to start follow-up care should be determined with the patient, their family and their care team, as every patient's cancer journey is different. Your doctor or nurse navigator can provide education about preventive measures, what to be aware and on the lookout for should any cancer return, and what to do if it does.
"I don't think of follow-up care as cancer treatment, I think of it as cancer prevention," says JaLisa.