June 1 is the 27th annual National Cancer Survivor Day, established as a reminder that quality of life after cancer is better than ever before.
There is life after a cancer diagnosis, and it's something to celebrate, especially among the 14 million cancer survivors in the U.S. Survivors can be anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer at some point, and even family members, friends, and caregivers are a part of the survivorship experience. “Sometimes people have very negative ideas of what life after cancer looks like,” the National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation spokesperson, Laura Shipp, told CBS 5. “But the reality is that more people are living longer and better quality lives after cancer than ever before. These survivors are showing us that life after cancer can be meaningful, exciting, and filled with joy.”
Thanks to improved cancer treatments, more people are surviving after being diagnosed with cancer. But it’s often difficult to return to normal lives after undergoing chemotherapy, when every small ounce of energy was focused on simply getting through each day. “While I was having chemo, I quit doing almost everything,” Len, a cancer patient, told the National Cancer Institute (NCI). “So when treatment ended, the challenge for me was, what am I going to do now with my life? What should I go back to doing?”
Though the immediate fight against cancer might be over once treatment is over, many patients realize that it’s not the end of the battle. Taking the time to recover is important. Survivors may discover that doing things they once used to do isn’t quite as easy as it was before, or they may be concerned that the cancer might return. But in addition to these changes, survivors also find a new way of looking at life, where small things hold more meaning. “After treatment for breast cancer, I knew my life had changed forever. Nothing could ever be the same. I was very sad at my losses, but I felt I had been given the gift of a new life,” one cancer survivor, Linda, told the NCI.
Surviving cancer may spur you into choosing a healthier lifestyle, consisting of working out more, eating more healthily, and stopping the bad habits that might have led to cancer to begin with, like smoking. The National Cancer Institute lists an extensive plan for cancer survivors, to help them deal with follow-up medical care, the physical and emotional changes, as well as learning how to cope with a different life afterwards. There are even support groups for survivors that help people deal better with anxieties about the future, or even post-chemo physical symptoms like fatigue.
“National Cancer Survivors Day is an opportunity for cancer survivors to come together and celebrate this new reality in cancer survivorship,” Shipp said. “There is life after cancer. It may not be the same as before cancer, but it can be beautiful, rewarding, and sometimes even better than before. And that’s something to celebrate.”