Although public health experts like to point out that overall
rates of death from cancer have not budged, some cancers are a lot more
survivable than others. More than ever, a diagnosis of cancer today isn't
necessarily the death sentence it may have been a 20 years ago.
"For some adult cancers, the survival rate can be as high
as 70%," says Lindsay Nohr, executive director of Fertile Hope, a nonprofit
group that educates cancer patients about how treatment may affect their
ability to have children. "For some pediatric cancers, the cure rate can be
The simple goal of survival for many cancer patients becomes so
all-encompassing that many survivors are badly under prepared to a return to
Life After Survival
"People should have information about the psychosocial
issues that they're going to face when they walk out of the hospital door,"
says Susan Nessim, founder of Cancervive, a group that aims to assist people
who have experienced cancer deal with return to normal life. She also is author
of Can Survive: Reclaiming Your Life After Cancer.
"Your relationship to everyone around you is going to
change," says Nessim, who is a survivor of rhabdomyosarcoma, a childhood
cancer of the muscles, which she developed in 1975 at age 17. "You may find
yourself cutting off relationships that aren't working. You may want to change
jobs because you've had this meaningful, life-changing experience.
"Once you finish treatment, people start moving away from
you because they assume you're fine now," she says. "I was often was
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."
Beyond the difficulties of cancer treatment lie the more
mundane problems of life as a survivor. Many cancer survivors have trouble
keeping health coverage.
"It's common for a cancer survivor's health insurance
premium to go up so high they can't afford coverage," says Nessim. "Or
certain scans or procedures won't be allowed under the plan, so in one way or
another, they get cut out of coverage."
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," Nessim says. "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."