Survivorship Care Plan
June 02, 2017
By Rachel Buenemann, ISU Dietetic Intern at the Community Cancer Center
You’re driving down the interstate, following a pre-printed map leading you turn by turn to your destination. Each stop sign and roundabout is listed on your directions. But wait. There is a late breaking traffic update on the radio. A major road on your path has been closed. What now? Do you have a plan for the next part of your journey?
Cancer treatment and life after treatment can be like the above scene. During treatment, the oncologist has a clear plan of what types of therapies a patient will receive, when they will receive them, and what to do when there are side effects. But, how is health planning handled after cancer treatment? Even after treatment, side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment may still occur. These long-term side effects can present serious health issues. Depending on where the cancer was in the body, side effects can affect how we eat by disrupting swallowing, decreasing nutrient absorption, and causing diarrhea. The long-term effects can cause weight gain or loss, create difficulty breathing due to a decreased lung function, or even affect the heart.
Side effects after treatment depend on which drugs and procedures each survivor receives. It is important for the patient and their primary care doctor to have a roadmap of which cancer treatments were used. A primary care doctor will take over care after cancer treatment and help monitor symptoms of possible long-term side effects. In the case of a long-term side effect known as cardiac toxicity, a primary care doctor may consider symptoms of shortness of breath or water retention as signs to check further for the risk of a heart attack or heart failure.
This road map is called a survivorship care plan. A survivorship care plan is completed by medical staff at the office of the oncology doctor and is given to the patient to note future medical risks and goals for maintaining health. Each cancer patient is different with a unique treatment, lifestyle, and goals. So, each plan will be different, listing specific risks and recommendations for the patient to maintain health.
Specific lifestyle goals can be made to decrease the risk for long-term side effects such as maintaining a healthy weight and physical activity to keep your heart working well. If a survivor has trouble swallowing after treatment, they may visit a speech therapist for an evaluation and treatment may include exercises and techniques to prevent future choking.
Most care plans have a few basic goals to maintain health such as remaining active, managing weight, eating healthy meals and attending follow up appointments. A care plan or cancer center may set up road signs to guide survivors to health goals. So as not to become lost in the crossed roads of medicine, having a care plan can help survivors navigate to a healthier destination after treatment.
The Community Cancer Center offers a variety of supportive and educational groups and programs, free of charge, to help patients and families cope with cancer and its effects. For more information go to their website at www.cancercenter.org.
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