The Burden of Cancer's Cure

Living life after the cure and coping with the complications of cancer

While cancer therapies are saving lives, more attention is needed for the patients after their treatment has ended. All throughout my sister’s cancer journey, everybody would always say, “at least she is here.” That continues to be something said by close friends and even family. Although it is true that she is here, many pieces of her are not.

Yes, after 52 chemotherapies, many immunotherapies, 10 rounds of radiation and a bone marrow transplant, she is here. But the burden of what those treatments did to her greatly affect her daily life. The nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, bone pain, neuropathy and endless aches and pains plague her. Medication can help, but it is not always the answer. This is her “new normal,” but it is one that nobody should have to be living.

We place such time and emphasis on the cure, that we rarely, if ever, discuss the cost. She is 30, but her body has aged exponentially beyond that due to the treatments she received. The things a 30-year-old woman would normally be doing are not things that she can do on most days. There are days when almost everything is a struggle.

While her oncologist has always offered suggestions and support for these complications, many come with no cure. So, while the illness that we were fighting so hard to cure is now gone, she is still left with these afflictions for the rest of her life. I am not saying that it was not worth it, because everyone is right — she is still here.

I think that these risks need to be discussed prior to treatment in a more realistic manner and not set aside because the cure is such a sought-after outcome. I wish that drug companies would work harder on managing the side effects to drugs that they are making, just as much as they are making drugs to cure cancer. Those suffering from cancer obviously want to rid their bodies of the disease, and it is unfortunate that it often comes at such a high cost.

Almost two years in remission, my sister continues to work on adjusting to the life that is now set before her. The treatments she uses to palliate her complications improve as we make advancements in medicine. As I watch her, I feel it vastly unfair that we simply expect her and others to seek happiness because they now carry the title of “survivor.” While I want nothing more than her wellbeing and happiness, I also think that with cancer, the reality is often different than what we think it may be.