Today is an important day for more than 15.5 million people across the country, including families right here in the CSRA. Sunday, June 4, is National Cancer Survivors Day. It is a day when moms, dads, aunts, uncles and communities stand with those who claimed victory over cancer.
While the fight may be over, you must remain vigilant in the weeks and months and years to come. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network lists six standards for survivorship care, including prevention of new cancers; surveillance of cancer recurrence; assessment of mental and physical effects related to diagnosis and treatment; assistance with medical, social, and financial concerns; and coordination of care with the patient’s medical team. The final standard is development of a survivorship care plan to summarize treatment, outline surveillance recommendations, guide patients on healthy lifestyle modifications and provide patient education.
As a physician, one of my greatest pleasures is victory over cancer. My patients often discuss early retirement, canceling long-term plans and tying up loose ends at diagnosis. Later, to review a scan with my patients confirming the cancer is in remission is a joyous thing.
The transition from treatment to survivorship is an even more uplifting event. Recently one of my patients returned to active duty in the military following a stem cell transplant after previously thinking he would never be healthy enough to return to service. To see my patients return to life as normal is truly rewarding.
At the Georgia Cancer Center, every patient who has completed treatment has access to a survivorship program. Patients meet one-on-one with a specialist to summarize their treatment and review any potential complications that may develop. That specialist, Brittany Frankhouser, works with the patients to create a clear plan for follow-up and surveillance of cancer recurrence.
Patients are assessed carefully to identify any potential mental, physical, or financial issues uniquely related to their diagnosis and treatment. Patients receive information regarding support programs, which are readily available. The treatment summary and follow-up plan is communicated to the patients’ primary care physician and medical team. Patients are encouraged to ask questions so they leave empowered with knowledge about their diagnoses.
The survivorship program is a vital part of the comprehensive cancer care provided at my institution.
As we celebrate National Cancer Survivor’s Day, I want to say congratulations to all the patients who have survived cancer and to all the families, friends, caregivers, nurses and physicians who supported them through their diagnoses.
The writer, an assistant professor of medicine at Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia, is a medical oncologist and associate director of the Hematology/Oncology Fellowship Program at Augusta’s Georgia Cancer Center.