June 5 is National Cancer Survivors Day. One of its goals is to recognize the physical, emotional, and financial challenges faced by cancer survivors. In books and movies, overcoming cancer usually means living happily ever after. In reality, living as a cancer survivor is a bit different.
A Growing Population
It’s important for us to understand the challenges facing cancer survivors, because they are one of the faster growing demographics. At 16.9 million, they constitute about 5% of the population. If they all lived together, they could be the fifth largest state in the union, coming in just ahead of Pennsylvania. Furthermore, they will grow by about one third over the next 20 years, which will make them about 7% of the overall population.
But they don’t all live together. They are more randomly distributed. Statistically, it is likely that of every 20 people you know, at least one is a cancer survivor.
A Variety of Challenges
The American Cancer Society regularly surveys cancer survivors. In 2015, the survey found that “Survivors were most likely to report experiencing physical problems, followed by financial issues, education or informational needs, and personal control troubles, which encompassed needs related to maintaining autonomy and independence.”
The survivors who most often report financial and system-of-care problems are women who have survived breast cancer. They often report lost income, unexpected out-of-pocket medical expenses, and little help or understanding from their doctors. This seems to me to be mostly the result of our broken healthcare system.
Cancer survivors who report the most physical and personal control problems are men, 65 and older, who have survived prostate cancer. Because the prostate is so close to the organs that control certain processes, treating it can sometimes disrupt bowel, urinary, and sexual functions. This may be what many respondents are referring to when they report loss of personal control.
Life as a Cancer Survivor
There is, then, a whole spectrum of problems facing someone who survives cancer, in terms of finances, health, emotions, and psychology. The National Cancer Institute’s page on Cancer Survivorship lists resources to help with the many life changes that result. It’s a good place to start if you’re looking for help with the transition from patient to survivor.
I’ve been thinking about what Peak Recovery & Health Center offers that might be useful for cancer survivors. First, consider the services we have for pain management: cryotherapy, photobiomodulation (including celluma), and massage. If your cancer has left you with chronic pain, we may be able to offer some relief. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider about whether these things might help your case, but we’ve seen each of these services provide temporary relief that’s often sufficient to break a tension-pain cycle.
When you survive cancer, you face an inevitable question: will it come back? Float therapy won’t answer that question, but it may help you manage the constant stress of it. A few years ago, I wrote about a clinical study that demonstrated how float therapy reduces anxiety as well as the blood level of the stress hormone cortisol.
Massage is another effective stress management technique. I wrote about that here.
Cancer survivorship is good news, but people who haven’t experienced it don’t usually know how stressful it can be. If you are close to a cancer survivor, keep that in mind. If you are a cancer survivor, consider how our recovery technologies might be of help.