What exactly is survivorship?

Family smiling togetherSurviving cancer can mean many things. A survivor can be…

  • someone who is free from disease after completing treatment
  • someone who is living with cancer
  • someone who is going through cancer treatment to manage the disease or reduce risk of the cancer returning
  • family, friends and caregivers who have been affected by your diagnosis

Survivors can improve their quality of life by taking care of their mind, body and spirit. Visit our A Life Change and Getting and Giving Support sections for tips on taking care of you.

Some people will consider themselves and loved ones survivors when they have finished active treatment. Though this can be an exciting time, it may also cause stress and worry.

After finishing treatment, some people wonder…

  • “Will the cancer come back?”
  • “Am I doing enough to fight the cancer?”
  • “What signs should I look for to detect if the cancer has come back?”
  • “How long will my side effects last?”
  • “So much has changed. What do I do now?”

All of these concerns are normal and justified. Recognizing they exist will help you cope with them.

Cancer and cancer treatment not only presents emotional challenges. There may be some physical concerns that are present after treatment.

You may have some symptoms that take longer to heal or may last a lifetime. Some people make experience a late effect. A late effect is a side effect from treatment that occurs months or years after a diagnosis of cancer. Some cancer treatments can make you prone to some health issues or make your current health issues worse. This is something to discuss with your doctor.

Coping with challenges

Getting answers from your doctor may provide comfort in a time when you are feeling uncertain. Here are some topics to bring up with your doctor.

Ask your doctor about:

  • what side effects will you likely experience from the treatment
  • how long they will last
  • ways to cope with long-term effects from treatment
  • symptoms of cancer recurrence
  • other health issues that may be affected by treatment
  • ways to stay as healthy as possible after treatment

You may notice that as you near the end of your treatments or after your treatment has ended, many of your relationships change or feel different.

It is normal to feel like:

  • nobody understands you
  • some relationships feel closer and some more distant
  • you need something different out of your relationships
  • people treat you differently than you hoped or expected

You can work through these changes and other survivorship challenges by:

  • communicating with your friends and family members
  • writing in a journal to help you express your thoughts
  • asking advice from a support group
  • seeking the help and guidance of a counselor, therapist or spiritual leader.

Asking for support from others can make you feel less alone during this time. See our Getting and Giving Support section for more information.

Coping with Emotions

Surviving lung cancer can also bring up some tough emotions. Some survivors ask “why me” questions about having cancer. Others feel guilt for having survived. Some people also feel like they are being blamed for getting lung cancer. All of these feelings are very normal. Each person needs to work through these feelings in their own way. Some survivors find connecting with their spirituality and talking about these feelings with friends, family, counselors and other survivors to be helpful.

Financial Concerns

As you near the end of treatment, you may face financial concerns. Paying for cancer treatment is a burden for many. Many people with cancer have had to stop working. Some might find it hard to go back to work, get a new job or even work at all due to lasting side effects. Though this is a stressful time, options exist to help you with your financial concerns. See our Resources section to find out more information.

What should patients and doctors discuss during the last few appointments?

  • Any concerns about the future
  • Any ongoing treatment
  • Revisit treatment goals
  • The necessary tools to advocate for good care going forward
  • Coordinating future care with the primary care doctor
  • The follow-up care schedule
  • Who will be involved in ongoing care?
  • An “end of treatment summary” that outlines the original diagnosis (the cancer type and stage) as well as the treatments received. It should also clearly state the proposed schedule for follow-up visits and recommended testing to monitor the person's recovery.

Life will be forever changed after a battle with cancer. It will take time, but you will adjust to a new normal. Your support system and care team can make the transition easier.

Remember: You are a survivor.

Early detection of lung cancer can increase survival rates. Call the Lung Helpline at 1-800-LUNGUSA or talk to your doctor about lung cancer screening.