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The Engaged Patient

Working With Your Healthcare Team After Cancer Treatment

Many people who have finished their cancer treatment often talk about how they did not feel prepared for the posttreatment phase of survivorship.
April 2017 Vol 3 No 2
Allison Harvey, MPH, CHES
Senior Manager, Healthcare Professional Education, Institute for Patient-Centered Initiatives and Health Equity, George Washington University Cancer Center, Washington, DC
Mandi Pratt-Chapman, MA
Director, Institute for Patient-Centered Initiatives and Health Equity, and Associate Center Director, George Washington University Cancer Center, Washington, DC

Many people who have finished their cancer treatment often talk about how they did not feel prepared for the posttreatment phase of survivorship. This can include not knowing about side effects that may start after cancer treatment is over, worries about not seeing the cancer care team as often as before, and dealing with changes in their relationships, or fear that the cancer may return.

Survivors, advocates, nonprofit organizations, healthcare providers, researchers, and many others are working together to learn more about the needs of posttreatment cancer survivors, and are working to create tools and resources to help survivors. One of these tools dealing with issues that arise after active treatment is a survivorship care plan.

Ask For Your Survivorship Care Plan

If you are finishing treatment, ask your cancer care team, or your nurse navigator, for a survivorship care plan. A survivorship care plan is a document that sums up your diagnosis and treatments. It also includes follow-up care instructions to help you deal with any physical, social, and emotional consequences of dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

Typically, you will meet with a cancer care team member to go over your survivorship care plan. During that meeting, talk with your care team members about how they will share your plan with your primary care doctor, and how to work with your doctor moving forward.

Because a survivorship care plan is a relatively new tool provided to patients, you may not have received a survivorship care plan if you finished treatment within the past few years. However, you can always reach out to your cancer care team and ask them to send a treatment summary to you and to your primary care doctor.

Taking Control

Having a survivorship care plan can help you make choices about your health and your care moving forward. For example, you can use your survivorship care plan when you talk to your doctor about your new exercise goals. Or if you start having swelling in your arms or legs, a possible sign of lymphedema, which is a side effect of cancer treatment, you can review your survivorship care plan and know you need to call your doctor to help address the problem.

You can also use your survivorship care plan to help you talk to your loved ones about what you may experience once treatment is over. People who are unfamiliar with cancer may not realize that even though your cancer is gone, and treatment is over, the impact of cancer may remain for quite a while.

Sharing information about what you may be experiencing after treatment can help you and your loved ones talk more openly. For example, you and your partner may decide to talk to a counselor about any changes in your sexual intimacy that may be caused by treatment. Or you may both join a support group to connect with other people who share similar experiences, and learn how to cope with uncertainty.

A Roadmap For Cancer Survivors

Use your survivorship care plan as a healthcare roadmap to work with your primary care doctor and your cancer care team as you make decisions about your new needs and preferences in this next phase of your care as a cancer survivor.

For daily information on ways to engage in your care, follow us on Twitter at @PreparedPatient.

Survivorship Resources

Many organizations offer resources for post-treatment cancer survivors. For resources available by phone, you can call the National Cancer Institute at 800-422-6237; the American Cancer Society at 800-227-2345; or CancerCare at 800-813-4673. These organizations can connect you to survivorship resources and other organizations that can help you.

Key Points

  • If you are finishing treatment, ask your cancer care team, or your nurse navigator, for a survivorship care plan
  • A survivorship care plan is a useful document that sums up your diagnosis and treatments and can serve as a healthcare roadmap
  • Your survivorship care plan can be used to discuss your post-treatment phase with your primary care doctor, your cancer care team, and your loved ones
  • Sharing information about what you may be experiencing after treatment can help you and your loved ones talk more openly about mutual concerns, such as sexual intimacy

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Last modified: October 5, 2017

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