About the “Perspectives on Cancer Survivorship” Patient Partner Series

What is cancer survivorship? By definition, survivorship is the absence of cancer after the completion of treatment or living with, through, and beyond cancer [1]. However, depending on a patient’s cancer and treatment, their perspective on survivorship will vary. The intention of this series is to highlight these variations among patient partners, to further the understanding of life after cancer.  

To Penelope Hedges, survivorship encompasses her journey during and after her cancer treatments. She was initially diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012 and had a recurrence in 2018. An important part of her journey that continues to impact her today is the effect of chemo brain. Chemo brain refers to any mental cloudiness that may happen during or after chemotherapy [2]. Following her active treatment, Penelope continued to experience side effects of chemo brain, which has made her unable to return to work. This has significantly impacted her quality of life and her wellbeing. Her symptoms only got worse after her recurrence, possibly because of the multiple steroids she took during her chemotherapy treatment. To her, Penelope feels that chemo brain has been downplayed in the survivorship aspect of cancer even though it has drastically impacted her day-to-day life. She hopes that future research in post-cancer care includes addressing chemo brain to help cancer patients after completing their treatments. 

Even after experiencing a recurrence of her ovarian cancer and having to go through active cancer treatment twice, Penelope shares that it, unfortunately, does not get any easier. However, when navigating her recurrence, she was able to build connections with a friend who was going through something very similar. This made a world of a difference. Having that peer support was important for Penelope’s survivorship journey because they were able to build a connection based on their shared lived experiences. She was also able to access important programs at Inspire Health which greatly helped her recovery. 

In Penelope’s perspective, her cancer treatments were a few bumps in the road she just had to overcome to move forward with her life. As a gynecologic cancer survivor, she wants to reiterate that surviving cancer is just one step in survivorship. Treatments take a toll on one’s body and it takes time to move on. But, by taking the time to heal, having the right support system, and having access to post-treatment care, it is possible. 

[1] According to https://www.cancer.net/survivorship/what-survivorship 

[2] According to https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/changes-in-mood-or-thinking/chemo-brain.html

Penelope was a chartered accountant, latterly specializing in IT development and management work. Earlier in her career she consulted as an expert witness in court on major commercial, contract, and liability litigations. Penelope was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012 and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. She was looked after by her partner, Barbara. Since then she has largely retired from professional life. In 2018 she experienced a recurrence of her ovarian cancer and again underwent surgery and chemotherapy. Penelope is a Patient & Family Advisor on several working groups within BC Cancer, the BC Centre for Palliative Care and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. One of her hobbies is photography and she posts at www.penelopehedges.photography