There is life after cancer
There is lots of good news about cancer. Today in the UK, half of people diagnosed with cancer survive for at least five years. In the 1960s, only one in four children diagnosed with cancer were cured; today, that figure is three in four. For adults, cancer survival rates in the UK have doubled in the last four decades.
Even so, for the one person in three diagnosed with cancer during their life, it's still a terrifying journey. A recent survey suggests that people who've been diagnosed with cancer take longer to get back to normal than they realised, even if they have physically recovered. You've heard that most dreaded phrase, 'You've got cancer'. You've coped with the initial shock and been swept through a maze of hospital departments and doctors' offices. You've had your initial treatment and are home with an appointment for a check-up. What now?
The crucial thing to remember is that you don't have to suffer in silence, or alone. The NHS is far more geared up than it was to provide support, and the remarkable people working with teams like Macmillan cancer support really do understand. They're there to help - use them.
Coping with the physical
Physical changes after cancer come in all shapes and forms - scars, your weight, your hair. These would be difficult to cope with even if they didn't act as a constant reminder of what you've been through. Do speak to your team about talking through your feelings.
Reaping the rewards of longer-term treatment
If you're a woman with breast cancer or a man with prostate cancer, your doctor will often recommend hormone medication for some years after your initial treatment. Many people cope well with these medicines, but side effects are not uncommon. They include tiredness, hot flushes, feeling sick, mood swings and painful joints. Unfortunately, quite a lot of people stop treatment within a couple of years. If you do find you're getting side effects, speak to your GP or hospital team to see if there are ways of reducing the side effects or a possibility of an alternative with fewer side effects. Remember that these treatments can greatly increase your chance of the staying cancer-free, so do stick with them if you possibly can.
Getting back in control
When you're having cancer treatment, you have to trust your medical team. Your whole life is filled with hospital appointments and meetings with healthcare professionals. Then suddenly, you're back home and on your own. Once your initial treatment is over, it's not surprising that many people lose confidence or feel isolated or depressed. If you can, share your feelings with friends and family - they may be desperate to help. You may find it easier to speak to a professional or another cancer survivor - try http://community.macmillan.org.uk/ or speak to your GP.
Lost that loving feeling?
Hormone treatments for breast cancer can lower your desire - but so can depression and anxiety about your appearance after cancer. Your partner may put off intimate relations for fear of hurting you. It's good to talk - share your concerns with them and start with some cuddling to get that warm, wanted feeling back.
Maggie's centres - a home from home, a helping hand
Twenty years ago, Maggie Keswick Jencks was diagnosed with advanced cancer. She heard the news in a bare room with neon strip lighting, set at the end of a sterile hospital corridor. She had a dream - a network of serene, beautiful environments, homes from home for people with cancer. Eighteen years ago, the first Maggie's Centre opened in Edinburgh, offering a warm welcome, practical advice and emotional support in a beautiful building in the grounds of an NHS Hospital. The charity has gone from strength to strength, and today there are 17 centres and nine more planned. In fact, the latest Maggie's Centre, in Oxford, has its official opening on 13th October. Anyone with cancer, or their families can drop in for a chat, benefits advice, group and individual support or yoga and relaxation classes. Maggie would have been very proud. Find out more, get involved or donate towards this invaluable work at http://www.maggiescentres.org/
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.