For all its difficulties, cancer treatment is a time of focus, where you’re working toward a goal. A very important one. It also provides the structure and certainty of regular visits with your oncology care team, a finite date when treatment will be over, and, for many, the help, support and concern of friends and family.
Then treatment ends, and after the initial relief — or even euphoria — passes, many patients feel adrift, or abandoned. Some become anxious or even depressed, says Jill Mitchell, PhD, LCSW, OSW-C, a social worker in Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers’ Boulder office.
“Some people will power through treatment, and then suddenly after treatment ends, and others are celebrating for them and eager for them to be ‘back to normal,’ they crash a little emotionally,” she says.
“It’s not everyone. Sometimes people reach the end of treatment and they’re thrilled and ready to launch right back into life,” Mitchell says. But she estimates that 30 to 50 percent of patients experience moderate to high levels of anxiety after treatment, especially related to concerns about recurrence, side-effects of treatment, or a changed sense of one’s identity.
That’s why, at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, the care doesn’t end when treatment does.
As a cancer survivor, you have lots of company. In 2016, an estimated 15.5 million cancer survivors were living the United States. That number is expected to climb to 20 million by 2026. And there are a growing number of resources available to survivors.
Mitchell encourages patients to take advantage of the post-treatment survivorship resources offered at many RMCC locations. It’s a chance to get perspective, to ask questions about follow up care, and to benefit from learning that the range of emotions you’re feeling after treatment are not unusual, she says.
At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, some of those include:
- A survivorship visit with an advanced practice provider or participation in a one-hour “I’m Done with Treatment, What’s Next?” group educational program to learn about potential late effects of treatment, knowing when to contact your PCP vs. oncologist, and the emotional journey that can follow cancer treatment.
- Valued Living for Survivors. This group offers strategies for managing anxiety and depression. Participants also are part of a four-year study to measure how effective those strategies are in helping cancer survivors. The study is now in its fourth year. “We’re going to be analyzing the data very soon, but so far the feedback we’ve received is very positive,” Mitchell says.
If the data indicate the program truly eases anxiety, it likely will be offered more broadly among RMCC offices, she says. The study is still enrolling participants in Aurora and Boulder, so anyone interested can discuss it with a social worker, or contact Mitchell directly at 303-385-2003.
- Empower Your Recovery. This five-week program explores physical recovery, self-care, relationships, and hope. It’s offered at a few Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers locations. To learn more, contact a social worker at your treatment office.
A variety of other programs that include survivors are also available in our communities. Even if you completed treatment months ago, or longer, the social workers at RMCC are still there for you, Mitchell says. “It’s never too late to reach out to a social worker and discuss what’s going on and the resources available to you.”