On the Other Side of Cancer:
Cancer is something to fight, something to conquer. But what happens when it's gone? What does it leave behind? How does it
alter a life? And, perhaps the most unsettling question:
Survivors talk about the challenges of life after cancer
Will it come back?
We talked with people who completed cancer treatment at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center about their
concerns as they enter survivorship. The Cancer Center is starting a conversation that aims to improve care for patients once
cancer treatment is finished and to help them anticipate changes in their lives as a result of the disease. As we learn more about
survivorship, our researchers will find better ways to prevent and treat the long-term effects of cancer and its treatment.
"There are universal challenges for people who have been through cancer treatments and are trying to establish a new normal in
their lives," said Karen Hammelef, M.S., director of Cancer Center Patient & Family Support Services. "We want patients to feel
empowered to tell us what they're experiencing so we can help to address those issues."
Surviving cancer is not an endpoint; it's a beginning.
Hometown: DeWitt, Mich.
Survived: Hodgkin's Disease
Major Concern: Anxiety
Brandy Terwilliger can't stop thinking about cancer. It's hard to get to sleep. It pops into her mind when she gets up to go to
the bathroom in the middle of the night. She has broken down and cried at work.
Cancer is gone from Brandy's body, but not from her thoughts.
Since finishing active treatment for Hodgkin's disease, Terwilliger has noticed her mood can change rapidly. She said she feels
like few people understand what she's going through.
"I went through radiation and I was OK with that. I thought, 'If there's anything there, they're probably zapping it, so I'm good,"
she said. "But to go three months without seeing a doctor is a huge deal. I feel like they're my security blanket."
Many patients have similar concerns after treatment. Often, they seek out the
U-M PsychOncology Clinic
, designed specifically to
provide counseling to people coping with cancer -- even after treatment ends. Complementary therapies -- such as guided imagery, art
therapy or music therapy-may also help to alleviate anxiety.
"It's very normal for patients to seek help to cope with all that has happened to them," she said. "After treatment, people
think they're supposed to be back to normal, and they're not. We can help with that."
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