June was National Cancer Survivors Month! To celebrate, the Gynecologic Cancer Initiative (GCI) created a new series: Perspectives on Cancer Survivorship. Through this series, we hope to continue amplifying the stories of cancer survivors and the efforts of researchers to improve cancer survivorship. With the support of the GCI community, we highlighted the stories of three patient partners (Penelope Hedges, Nicole Keay, and Michelle Lim) and the work of two trainee researchers (Alex Lukey and Bibiana Kemerer). Although every patient’s story is unique and the research is cross-disciplinary, each feature of the Perspectives on Cancer Survivorship series has had a common thread: Survivorship is beyond survival.
Quality of life
Many survivors experience physical changes to their body; whether it be having to regain normal bowel movements or medically induced menopause, adjusting their life to these changes is a challenge. In some cases, these changes are permanent, such as chemo brain, and survivors have to handle these challenges independently.
Although there has been great progress on survivorship research, there is still a long way to go. Researchers within this series have highlighted the importance of centering patient partner voices and focusing on both survivorship and quality of life to improve life post-cancer for patients. In addressing cancer survivorship as an ongoing process, life post-cancer can become less daunting for survivors.
Holding space for healing
Patient partners shared that there is often a misconception that finishing active treatments and surviving cancer is the finish line. However, what is often overlooked, is life post-treatment. For many cancer survivors, their survivorship journey may be just as difficult, or sometimes more difficult than their treatments. It takes time to process and come to terms with what has happened to their body. Without allowing adequate time to heal, it can be very difficult for survivors to move into the survivorship part of their cancer journey. After finishing treatment, Nicole immediately returned to work to attempt a sense of normalcy and routine, which eventually lead to burn out. By holding space for healing, survivors, like Nicole, can find ways to navigate and manage their survivorship journey and make progress towards life post-cancer.
Many survivors identified that when they were going through active cancer treatment, they always felt supported with a team of healthcare workers and countless appointments. However, there is often a significant shift in support when survivors are finished their treatments and they need to learn to manage life after cancer treatment themselves. Throughout this series, patient partners have shared how they seeked support throughout their journey, whether that be professionally, such as through physical therapy and mental health care, or personally from their loved ones. Being a rectal cancer survivor, Michelle offers her insights and advice to other patients hoping to make their experience a bit easier. Survivors also build connections with other patients and survivors based on similar lived experience. In knowing that they are not going through the journey alone, it brings a sense of comfort and hope. This was important to Penelope during her ovarian cancer recurrence, since she was able to connect with someone else also going through treatment.
Thank you to all the patient partners and researchers who participated in this Perspectives on Cancer Survivorship series. In sharing their stories and insights on healing post-treatment, changes in quality of life, and finding support during the cancer journey, they’ve provided a snapshot of what cancer survivorship is really like.
Check out the blog features below!