When I started my cancer journey, I had heard of the phrase “cancer survivor” but I didn’t think the term applied to me at the time since I was going through treatment. I thought the clock started when you were cancer-free.
But I soon learned three things. First, that the term “cancer-free” is being replaced with “no evidence of disease” (NED). Second, that the survivorship clock starts when an individual is first diagnosed, not at NED. Third, that cancer survivorship continues on past treatment. I will always be a cancer survivor.
The National Cancer Institue defines a cancer survivor this way:
“An individual is considered a cancer survivor from the time of diagnosis, through the balance of his or her life. Family members, friends, and caregivers are also impacted by the survivorship experience and are therefore included in this definition.”
MD Anderson refers to the different stages of cancer survivorship as living with cancer, through cancer, and beyond cancer.
A cancer survivor that is past the treatment phase and has NED, may still have lingering physical effects of treatment such as fatigue or memory issues from treatment among other things. Post-treatment emotional effects may include fear of recurrence, anxiety or a sense of gratitude to be alive. These emotions can cycle through again and again.
My long-term physical effects are neuropathy in my hands and feet (a constant feeling of numbness, tingling and pain) which requires me to be selective in my choice of shoes (flat, cushioned and with good arch support). If feet and hands are my only issue, these long-term physical effects are mild!
I cycle through some of the long-term emotional effects such as fear of recurrence on occasion but, mostly, I am extremely grateful to be here on the planet! Whether you are a cancer survivor or not, each day is a gift as we are not promised tomorrow. All the more reason to celebrate the little things in life!
Thanks to all my friends, including my care team at MD Anderson, who supported me during treatment and beyond. You will never know what a difference you have made in my life. I am so grateful for each of you!
Here is my blog post on this topic featured on MD Anderson’s Cancerwise blog:
After appendix cancer, celebrating the little things
June 14, 2016