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You've Survived Cancer: Now What?

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.
WebMD Feature

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 even higher."

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Note: Information about physical adjustment to treatment, problems with physical and cognitive development, and life after cancer treatment will be added to this summary in the future. The goal of supportive care is to improve the quality of life for young cancer patients and their families. Most children with cancer can be cured. However, cancer treatment for young patients can cause unwanted side effects and other problems during and after treatment. Early treatment of cancer symptoms...

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The simple goal of survival for many cancer patients becomes so all-encompassing that many survivors are badly under prepared to a return to everyday life.

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."

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