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Cancer Answers -- Debby Schobel

Question: Are there silver linings to long term cancer survivorship?

Thanks to the last two generations of cancer research and almost daily advances, the American Cancer Society is projecting 22 million cancer survivors in the United States by 2030.The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) defines cancer survivorship as starting from the moment of diagnosis and lasting until the time of death (death from any cause). In 1996 the NCCS was established to bring attention to the significant needs of increasing numbers of cancer survivors. The “long-term” qualifier definitely holds a different meaning for different people.

I was originally diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in July 1995 at age 41. At that time the statistics available predicted a maximum 10 year survival. That was 24 years ago and I am still here. It helps to know that survival estimates are based on older data/treatments because they have to wait to know how long any group of patients will live. Long-term cancer survivors have many things in common with shorter-term survivors. However, the gift of time allows some other common characteristics to develop. Long-term cancer survivorship is neither a walk on easy street, nor an endless purgatory. It brings new, different challenges along the way and more often than not, alters the individual’s perception of the world, usually in a positive way. Each journey, like each individual, is different. Even so, there are some commonalities worth discussing.

My personal favorite side effect of living longer as a “cancer survivor” is that you live longer than you would have if cancer had ended your life. Simply put: you end up having to deal with a lot of things that you would not have had to deal with if you were no longer here. This has both challenges (stormy weather clouds) and benefits (silver cloud linings). The longer anyone is alive, the more life they experience. Aging does have benefits (being present to experience positive times and opportunities) but it also brings some unwanted life experiences, and having survived cancer does not grant anyone immunity from them. Sometimes it helps to remember that in this case, the challenges of an aging body are a benefit of long term survivorship! Perspective is the key. One definite silver lining of survivorship is that cancer survivors usually develop a new appreciation for health and often seek ways to improve their own.

Debby Schobel is a long term Lymphoma survivor and Mission Hope educator. For further information please contact Mission Hope Cancer Center at 805-219-HOPE (4673) to address any questions you may have or learn about our on-going programs. We are here to help!

HAVE A QUESTION? This weekly column produced by Marian Regional Medical center Cancer Program invites you to submit your questions to “Your Cancer Answers” at the following email address: mariancancercare@dignityhealth.org

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