Follow-Up Care for Cancer Survivors
As a cancer survivor, you know that cancer is much more than treatment. It’s a journey that involves caring for yourself in a whole new way now and in the future.
Just think back to the beginning of your cancer survivor journey. At that time, it was all about determining what your new normal would look like and sharing your current health status with loved ones. During the middle of the journey, you had to focus on cancer treatment and the physical and emotional side effects of it.
Now that treatment is behind you, you can look ahead, setting your sights on the rest of your life. You might even feel up to adding more enjoyable activities into your schedule now that less time is devoted to doctor appointments. It’s that feeling of being ready to “move on.”
At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC), we know that moving on is a good thing! With that said, we encourage you to remember that it’s incredibly important that you tend to your health, which includes your follow-up care as a cancer patient and remembering to tend to regular health screenings and caring for other health conditions.
Step 1: Have a Cancer Survivorship Plan
Fortunately, your RMCC cancer care team will provide you with a follow-up cancer plan that includes information regarding your treatment history, your care team, suggestions for diet and exercise, and what late and long-term side effects you could expect as a result of your cancer treatment. According to the National Cancer Institute, this plan should be fairly detailed and answer questions such as:
- What records should I keep about my treatment?
- When will I begin to feel more like myself?
- Are there certain things I can do to maintain good health?
- Are there specific doctors I should see for my follow-up care?
- How often should I see my doctor(s) for follow-up care?
- Are there certain symptoms I should watch for or be concerned about?
- What long-term health issues could I expect after my cancer treatment?
If your cancer follow-up plan doesn’t address these or other questions that you may have, we encourage you to bring it to the attention of your RMCC cancer care team.
Step 2: Be Diligent Regarding Cancer Follow-up Appointments
Your cancer experience is unique, which means your follow-up instructions will be tailored to your specific needs. For instance, factors such as the type of cancer you had, how it was treated, and your overall health will influence how often you have follow-up appointments. On average, though, most cancer survivors are instructed to see their oncologist for follow-up appointments every 3 to 4 months for the first 2 to 3 years after treatment, and then once or twice a year. Since cancer recurrence is always a possibility, it is extremely important to make and keep your follow-up appointments. The sooner cancer recurrence is caught, the more likely it can be treated more effectively.
About Cancer Recurrence
Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee your cancer won’t return. There isn’t even a foolproof way to prevent it from happening. With that said, there are certain steps you can take to be as healthy as possible, such as these that are recommended by the American Cancer Society:
- Try to incorporate at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day into your diet
- Eat less red (beef, pork, lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs, sausage, lunch meats, etc.)
- Limit alcohol consumption to one (women) or two (men) drinks per day
- Lose weight if you are overweight or obese
- Exercise regularly, aiming for a minimum of 150 minutes per week
- Do strength training exercises at least twice per week
- Focus on eating foods made with whole grains rather than refined grains and sugars
- Return to normal daily activities as soon after cancer treatment as possible
Also, take note if you notice signs of cancer recurrence, such as:
- Original cancer symptoms return
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or difficulty swallowing
- New or unusual pain that lingers
- Chills or fever
- Trouble breathing
- Weight loss that can’t be explained
- Blood in your urine or stool
- Persistent cough
- Frequent headaches
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- New skin lesions or changes such as an abnormal rash, etc.
- Unexplained lumps, bumps, or swelling
- Any unusual symptoms that concern you
Step 3: Get Support from Other Cancer Survivors
As a cancer survivor, it’s likely that you’ll feel more anxious about your health than those who have never gone through a similar experience. Keep in mind that these feelings are completely normal. The good news is that there are a couple of ways you can help put some of the worries at ease. One is to remain diligent in attending your follow-up oncology appointments. Another is to look for support from others who understand what you’re going through. A support group for survivors is a great way to get that connection.
Surrounding yourself with other cancer survivors gives you the opportunity to open up about your fears and anxieties to others who are familiar with your struggles. Realizing you are not alone and gaining strength from fellow survivors will help you transition to life after cancer. Be sure to talk with a member of your Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers cancer care team about the support groups and events in the area. Click here to view the events calendar.