Life after treatment
Significant advances in the treatment of blood cancers mean that increasing numbers of people are being cured of their disease. Many others are experiencing long periods where their disease is under control and they are free to ‘get on’ with their lives. However survival brings with it its own challenges and opportunities.
Most people look forward to the end of treatment as a time when they can re-enter life and re-establish a ‘normal’ existence. While for most people life becomes a lot easier when treatment finishes, it is also a period where significant adjustments have to be made. Roles and responsibilities may need to be renegotiated within the family. Decisions may need to be made about how or when to return to work. Relationships may need to be re-established or in some cases re-evaluated as some people begin to look at life from a new or different perspective.
Most people adjust very well after treatment finishes and they go from strength-to-strength with the support and understanding of their families and friends. It is important to remember that adjustment is a gradual process. It may take time for you and those around you to get used to the new situation. Having realistic expectations of yourself and others can help to prevent disappointment, anger and frustration.
People cope in different ways with adjusting to life after treatment and there is no right, wrong or easy way to get back to ‘normal’. The idea of normal may need to be redefined with your recent life experiences. Some people need time to process what they have been through. They may do this alone or they may actively seek out opportunities to do so with other people. It is always good to have a close friend or family member in whom you feel you can trust and talk openly with about your feelings or experiences.
Some people find it useful to talk to others who have been though a similar experience and understand the complex issues that come up as you adjust to your new life. You may find that connecting with others who share a positive perspective on life and their experiences is rewarding. Information and support programs can be important at this time. Many people find it useful to share with a counsellor or psychologist their thoughts and feelings about their experience and how they are currently coping. In this context they are given the opportunity to express themselves openly and honestly, without fear of offending or disappointing the listener. Relationship or family counselling can be of great assistance in helping people to move forward in their lives and successfully work through some of the more difficult issues that may come up.
Many people report very positive outcomes from the experience of living with a blood cancer. These include a heightened appreciation of life and relationships, and a new level of personal development, involving increased self-confidence, calmness, serenity and assertiveness.
What are ‘Late Effects’?
Many people enjoy long and healthy lives after being successfully treated for their blood cancer. Sometimes, however, the treatment can affect a person’s health for months or even years after it has finished. Some side effects may not be evident until years after treatment has ceased. These are called ‘late effects’.
Some people who have been treated with chemotherapy or radiotherapy may be at a higher risk of developing other diseases such as myelodysplastic syndrome (a bone marrow disease) and other (secondary) cancers including leukaemia and melanoma (a type of skin cancer). These cancer treatments also have been shown to increase the risk of cardiac (heart) problems, gut problems, and other organs may be affected too.
Evidence suggests that radiotherapy to the chest at a younger age may increase the chances of developing lung cancer, breast cancer or heart problems later in life. Anthrocycline-containing chemotherapy regimens may increase the risk of developing heart problems or leukaemia. Therefore, it is important that people who have had these treatments minimise their risk of developing secondary cancers and other health problems by avoiding ultraviolet radiation from the sun, not smoking and for women, having regular screening for breast cancer.
After your treatment has finished, drawing up a late effects plan with your doctor or nurse can help you manage any potential late effects you may be at risk of, so you know what you need to have regularly monitored in the future, by whom, where, and when.