Life after treatment: what’s next?

Pam McGrath

We support many blood cancer patients after their diagnosis and throughout lifesaving treatment but we also recognise this can often be just the start of a patient’s blood cancer survival story.

Whether they go into remission or require ongoing treatment, all patients face issues of adjustment and change as they transition back into their lives.

“Surviving blood cancer brings its own set of challenges,” our Director of Support Services, Barbara Hartigan, said.

“Patients may need assistance in finding a new sense of ‘normal’. Some may be left with physical and emotional reminders of their disease, while others may require continuous treatment that they need to integrate into their day-to-day life.

“There is also the very real fear their illness could return.”

Through our dedicated survivorship program, funded by generous supporters from the community including the Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation, we’re continuing to address the physical and emotional needs of blood cancer patients as they adjust to life in the months and years following treatment.

Mrs Hartigan said while the topic of cancer survivorship had become more popular in recent years, the Leukaemia Foundation had supported survivorship research for the past two decades.

“Early collaborations with psychosocial researcher Dr Pam McGrath (pictured above) helped shape our patient services, providing huge leaps forward in understanding how we can help blood cancer patients move forward and find meaning in their lives after treatment,” she said.

“The continuous research we have funded in this area has given us a great foundation to build our support programs designed specifically for blood cancer survivors so they can get the best outcomes.

“A great example is our innovative Fit to Thrive exercise program that was developed to address fatigue and low energy levels faced by many patients during and following treatment.”

Helping patients get the most out of life

Other programs such as our It’s all about me and Relax, Breathe and Release look at the energising benefits of stretching and relaxation techniques, as well as tips for getting the most out of life through nutrition, wellbeing and activity.

Mrs Hartigan said our range of patient resources was also expanded to include sexuality in response to research findings that highlighted it as an issue. And, for survivors considering a return to work, we continue to establish links with community organisations to aid and assist with re-training and re-entering the workforce.

“Looking forward, we await the conclusion of a three-year analysis of the financial and social impact of patients relocating for specialist treatment,” Mrs Hartigan added. “This research by Dr McGrath will build on previous studies and provide further insight into the needs of regional patients, which we can draw upon to expand our services.”

The impact on young survivors

In a separate project, funded with community support, the Leukaemia Foundation is working to better understand how a cancer experience impacts the lives and outlook of adolescents and young adults (AYA), recognising leukaemia and lymphoma are among the most common cancers experienced by this age group.

PhD student Danielle Tindle, from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, recently completed international cross-cultural research to address ‘critical gaps in knowledge’ about the experiences of this growing population. As a researcher in the sociology of cancer and also a long-term AYA survivor of lymphoma, she hopes her findings lead to the development of post-treatment supportive care programs for young people that are more broadly representative of their everyday life experiences.

“As medical advances lead to an increase in blood cancer survival rates, it’s essential we investigate and understand survivorship issues so we’re able to continue to meet patients’ needs and provide more holistic cancer care from diagnosis, through treatment and beyond,” Mrs Hartigan said.

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