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Life after cancer is anything but ordinary

By Sola Ogundipe

Lifeline

Susan Nessim is a cancer survivor. President and Founder of Cancervive, a group that aims to assist people who have experienced cancer deal with return to normal life, Susan survived a rare childhood cancer of the muscles which she developed in 1975 at age 17.

Susan, who authored Cancervive: The Challenge of Life After Cancer, described her treatment as a life-changing experience. “Once you finish treatment, people start moving away from you because they assume you’re fine now.

“I was often told, ‘You look great, you’ve got your hair back, so just get on with your life.’ But it’s not that easy. Many of us are not prepared for the fact that everything isn’t going to be what is was.”

For life as a cancer survivor may be a mixed bag. Many cancer survivors have trouble keeping health coverage.

It is common for a cancer survivor’s health insurance premium to go up so high they can’t afford coverage. Or certain scans or procedures won’t be allowed under the plan, so in one way or another, they get cut out of coverage.

Susan says cancer survivors may have substantial medical bills to pay down, and some employers are reluctant to hire someone who has had cancer because of fears the person will not physically be able to handle work.

“All types of discrimination may be faced by survivors. Sometimes people return to work to find that their job is gone or they’ve been shifted to a lower position. They may find themselves loaded down with travel assignments in an effort to get rid of them.

“Employers know the bounds of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and they can be very savvy about how to get around hiring people who have had cancer or other major health problems, such as AIDS.”

Fifty five year-old Della Ogunleye survived breast cancer.  A church administrator and CEO, DDS African Cancer Support Group based in the United Kingdom, Della was surprised by the diagnosis and even more confused when she was told she needed to have mastectomy (breast removal).

“Without the benefit of care and support, the diagnosis was one big scare. I did not have the mentality that the disease was an attack or anything like that.  Before I was diagnosed, I had this breast pain, but I always thought that cancer was a white man’s disease and did not believe blacks had it.

“I was diagnosed in 2010 and had chemotherapy for six months. The chemo ended and the first thing they told me to do was breast reconstruction but I do not like fake things so I wear a prosthetic bra. If you passed me on the street you would not know.”

Della who visits Nigeria to contribute to the advocacy for cancer care and support says there is so much to do to help women with breast cancer in Nigeria. “Care and support are essential towards ensuring cancer survival,” she stated.

ancer is the second-leading cause of death worldwide. Around the world, 4.3 million people die prematurely from cancer each year. According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, the number of people who die from cancer every year is 8.8 million with prediction to rise to 13 million by 2030. One third of all common cancers are preventable and up to 3.7 million lives could be saved each year by implementing resource appropriate strategies for prevention, early detection and treatment.

Despite all these, more people are surviving cancer attack today than ever before.

It is known that today, people are twice as likely to live at least 10 years after being diagnosed with cancer than they were at the start of the 1970s. Thousands of persons who were diagnosed in the 1970s and 1980s are still alive.

Public health experts like to point out that overall rates of death from cancer has not dropped, some cancers are a lot more survivable than others. More than ever, a diagnosis of cancer today isn’t necessarily the death sentence it was 20 years ago.

or some adult cancers, the survival rate can be as high as 70 percent. For some paediatric cancers, the cure rate can be even higher.

The increase in long-term cancer survivors is due to more sophisticated treatment combined with an ageing population, the charity said, acknowledging that there was still a huge variation in survival rates according to cancer type.

But the consequences of more people living for longer, with long-term side-effects are daunting. With more people being diagnosed with cancer there is more pressure on the health system. Hundreds of thousands are facing poor health or disability after treatment for cancer.

Long-term consequences from cancer treatment can range from painful lower-leg swelling in women following breast cancer to emotional trauma. More people will need support.

About one in four cancer patients will come out of cancer treatment with side effects like incontinence, or experiencing serious sexual problems. They are the things people tend not to talk about, but can be the things that really result in people having a very poor life experience after their cancer diagnosis.

People who have fought cancer and won may expect to go back to their ordinary lives. But life after cancer can be anything but ordinary.

People should have information about the psychosocial issues that they’re going to face when they walk out of the hospital door. Cancer survivors face side effects of radiation, chemotherapy or surgery that can leave them infertile.

They can take special fertility-saving measures before treatment. Adult and adolescent males can make deposits in a sperm bank for future use. Prepubescent boys can have testicular tissue frozen to preserve sperm.

A survivor support group is also important. To have a group of survivors you can talk to is so vital. You learn from their experiences and mistakes. Once you finish treatment, your issues are dealing with everyday life.

You may not be comfortable talking with cancer patients who are currently on treatment, but talking with other survivors about survivor issues is what makes all the difference. The simple goal of survival is to be prepared to a return to everyday life.

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