The good news about cancer? By January 1, 2024, it is estimated that the population of cancer survivors will increase to almost 19 million: 9.3 million males and 9.6 million females. The chance of surviving 5 years for patients diagnosed with cancer is 64%.1
These growing figures, however, represent a double-edged sword for health care professionals. Cancer has become a chronic illness – for those in remission and those who will receive treatment or live with metastatic disease for the rest of their lives. Both populations are left to deal with a wide range of side effects from the disease and treatments, in addition to the massive impact on finances, fertility, relationships, intimacy, career, family, and more.
As a result, cancer has a new distinct phase: survivorship. The question is, how well are we prepared for survivorship?
A 2014 study describes a dismal knowledge base among 223 oncology registered nurses and advanced practice nurses at a comprehensive cancer center. Only 50% were familiar with the term "survivorship care planning," and just 63% could identify the components of a survivorship care plan.2
Patients with cancer go from receiving support and security from their oncology team during diagnosis and treatment, to often being left high and dry during survivorship once treatment has ended.
Elephant effort at a snail’s pace
Medical and nursing school curricula focus very little on cancer survivorship, and healthcare professionals are often left trying to piece together information and resources on their own.
While attending a breakout session at the 2014 Oncology Nursing Society annual conference, I had the opportunity to witness the level of frustration oncology practitioners are experiencing. It was palpable. Why? Because you care…immensely. Often at great personal cost.
As you celebrate with patients who are completing treatment and support those on long-term treatment plans, what challenges do you see for you and for them as the focus shifts to survivorship from survival? What resources are you aware of that can help you help them?
You can reinvent the wheel, but why would you?
Trying to create it all on your own is overwhelming. Sharing some ideas here and also looking to some of the amazing non-profits organizations, such as Stupid Cancer, Young Survival Coalition, Imerman Angels, #BCSM, and more, is one way to provide assistance to your survivors.
We create resilient, empowered survivors when we help them take steps to get what they need and point them to existing resources. As your survivorship program grows, how might reaching out and connecting with nonprofit organizations who specialize in serving the survivorship community accelerate the pace of getting survivors more immediate assistance?
- American Cancer Society. (2015). Cancer Treatment & Survivorship: Facts & Figures 2014-2015.
- Lester JL, Wessels AL, Jung Y. (2014). Oncology Nurses' Knowledge of Survivorship Care Planning: The Need for Education. Oncology Nursing Forum, Mar 1;41(2):E35-43.