Beasley Best Community of Caring – Cancer Survivor Awareness Month

Beasley Best Community of Caring

Surviving Cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, there are now 18.1 million people in the U.S. who have survived, or who are now living with, cancer, a number they project to increase to 22.5 million over the next eight years. An individual is considered a cancer survivor from the time of diagnosis through the rest of their life.  Better screening leading to early diagnosis is responsible for a large part of that number, while advances in treatments mean that even a later diagnosis can have a positive outcome.    “The truth of the matter is, both on the prevention and on the screening side and our medicines have all become better, which allows us to say with confidence now that we literally have more people living with cancer today than dying from it,” Dr. Robert Winn, Director and Lipman Chair in Oncology at the Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University told me on the public affairs show that I host, "Our Delaware Valley."   “In my early days as a medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School, I learned how to give ‘The Talk’ to men and women with lung cancer.   I’ve gone from giving the talk saying that there’s not much we can do for you, to ‘There is hope.’”     The NCI predicts that approximately 40.5% of us will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during our lifetimes.   But, as Dr. Winn pointed out, we’ll be hearing a better prognosis than someone diagnosed as little as five years ago.  We are now treating cancer more precisely for better outcomes as improved therapies are producing fewer side effects that impact our quality of life.  Some advanced cancers that cannot be cured can now be treated as a chronic disease, while some slow-growing cancers are simply monitored with no immediate treatment.   Look at the new technology that has given us proton-beam therapy to deliver precise radiation treatment to destroy cancer cells and not healthy surrounding tissue, minimally invasive surgery that means less pain, fewer complications, and a faster recovery, and personalized treatments such as CAR T-cell therapy that works by modifying your body's T-cells to hunt and destroy abnormal cells.   So, what does survivorship look like?  First, not everyone who has had a cancer diagnosis uses the word "survivor."   Some prefer to define themselves as a "person who has had cancer" or "a person living with cancer."  Just remember, if you’ve met one person who has had cancer, that's just one person - no two individuals are alike!   Some may be dealing with lingering or permanent side effects from their treatment, some may be coping with fear of recurrence, while others may have a new-found appreciation of life and want to make major changes to their lifestyle.    The American Society of Clinical Oncology has a suggestion for anyone dealing with a cancer diagnosis, join a support group.  Support groups allow you to share feelings and fears with others who understand and who can offer suggestions and practical advice.   The American Society of Clinical Oncology has information about what you can expect as a "Survivor" at cancer.net.   Don’t forget the other survivors, the caregivers and family members who made the journey with you.  They, too, are getting used to the new "normal" and may need support.   The American Cancer Society offers The Cancer Survivors Network, an online peer support community for everyone: cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and families, with discussion boards addressing the different types of cancer.     You can also find video Survivor Stories at the ACS, including Rick, a colon and kidney cancer survivor, and Jamil, a "Metastatic Breast Cancer Thriver." For breast cancer, the mortality rate dropped by 58% from 1975 to 2019, according to the National Cancer Institute. For the many women who have completed treatment or who are living with breast cancer today, Living Beyond Breast Cancer offers support groups that can meet in person or online, to help them feel better understood, more hopeful, and less alone.  Like most peer groups, these also provide advice and tips for living with a diagnosis or its aftermath.   One in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.  Thanks to medical advances in treatment and screening, most can now look forward to a productive, fulfilling life after that diagnosis and the tag, Survivor.      

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