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The Cancer Survivor's Toolbox


When a person moves out of their active treatment phase and begins the shift to life after cancer, many unanswered questions lie ahead. Some institutions offer courses to help with just that.

The email sat in my inbox for several days before I decided to open it. I wasn’t looking forward to any more cancer-related appointments. There had been plenty of them and quite frankly, I was getting tired of visits to the cancer treatment center. Being poked and prodded, scanned and tested weren’t my idea of fun. But in order to live, I’d done whatever was necessary to fight breast cancer.

Upon opening the email, I found an appointment scheduled for a survivorship class. “How odd,” I thought. I’d been surviving cancer for the past five years and had been doing just fine. “What was the purpose of this class?” I wondered.

Lifting my finger, I hovered over the delete key. It would have been so easy to press the button and forget I’d seen the email, but instead, dutifully, I printed the schedule and posted it on the refrigerator. The appointment was two weeks out. Although I preferred not to attend, I knew I would. To date, I’d done everything asked of me in this battle against cancer.

It seemed odd to need lessons on survival. “Didn’t all human beings possess a natural instinct to survive?” I wondered why the cancer treatment center felt I needed one more appointment. “Could this possibly be a routine procedure for all affected by cancer, or was this geared specifically toward those who’d reached the illusive five-year post cancer mark?”

When the day came for my survivorship appointment, I felt mixed emotions. On one hand, I was excited to have reached the point of discussing life after cancer, but on the other hand, I was afraid. It felt like the safety net of constant care was being yanked out from under my feet. Although I didn’t like going to one appointment or another every single month, those visits helped me feel at ease. I always felt someone was keeping a close eye on me and that made me feel a recurrence would be caught quickly should cancer ever decide to rear its ugly head again.

At the cancer treatment center, a jovial nurse greeted and congratulated me on reaching the five-year mark. All of a sudden, my feelings of fear and dread went out the window. Instead, it felt like I was about to receive a medal of honor for completing the five-year course in breast cancer survival.

When the doctor entered, again I received accolades for a job well done and then, we got down to business.

Questions were asked regarding my health. Topics discussed were broad and included sleep problems, anxiety, depression and sexual intimacy. One by one, the doctor listened to my answers and offered tools to help. Along with medication, I learned there were many other options available. If I needed to talk, there was always a psychiatrist or perhaps group therapy sessions to attend. For bodily aches and pains, massage therapy, acupuncture or chiropractic care were available on site. To address spiritual needs, the chapel was one floor up and the pastor was always on call. In short, whatever concern I shared, there was a fix for that.

Proceeding to the physical examination, the doctor gave me a thorough once over. As her attentive eye roved over my chest, and her well trained fingers palpated my skin, it was evident she was genuinely concerned about my well-being. When she’d completed her exam, she made sure to look me right in the eye and said, “Don’t worry. We are not leaving you to fend for yourself. Someone will always be a phone call away.” That gave me great comfort.

The survivorship appointment turned out to be a good thing. I’d been given resources to assist with just about any challenge I might face. The only thing missing was a cancer graduation ceremony. I sure would have liked to have received a degree stating I’d completed all courses necessary for cancer survivorship.

Surviving cancer is a lifelong challenge. Classes can be helpful, but real survival skills come from inside one’s spirit. In order to achieve victory, there must be a deep desire to do so. That’s a skill one person can’t possibly teach another. And, sometimes, even when a person is well equipped to survive, they don’t. With cancer, you just “can’t never always sometimes tell,” but we do what we can and hope for the best.

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