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Becoming a survivor: Here’s what to expect after you outlast cancer

The doctors found your cancer in time, you’ve completed treatment and you now join 8 million other Americans who’ve outlived cancer. But you wonder: How physically and emotionally difficult is survival? And how limited might my new life be? It’s true—survival changes your life. But it’s also an opportunity for personal, work-related and spiritual growth. There are keys to surviving successfully and making the most of your new life. For starters, you must safeguard your health as never before. Begin with:

  • Regular checkups. Keep your follow-up appointments religiously.
  • Alertness. Be sure you know the warning signs of cancer’s return. Report any suspicious symptoms to your doctor immediately.
  • Vigilance. Get regularly scheduled screenings for other cancers—not just the one you survived.
  • Acceptance. Help your own cause by accepting change, especially those affecting diet, weight and sleep.
  • Motion. Exercise if possible. Ask your doctor for guidelines.

Make your feelings known

It is unhealthy to mask your feelings of anger, grief or fear. Discuss your emotions with loved ones, counselors, friends and other survivors. Releasing anxiety lets you come to grips with survival and helps loved ones be more supportive.

Other practical ideas:

  • Survive one day at a time. As you do, your emotional upheaval will subside.
  • Recognize signs of survivor stress. Set priorities and do things you enjoy but pace yourself, too.
  • Know when to say “no” to others and to yourself.
  • Live like a survivor, not a shut-in. Attend support meetings, worship services or health lectures.
  • Rediscover intimacy. If your love life presents challenges, discuss them with your doctor or counselor.

Outside issues

Survivors also cope with unforeseen issues. Example: A significant minority of all survivors encounter discrimination from co-workers who think cancer is contagious or survivors aren’t productive. If you face these misunderstandings, first try talking it over. Should problems persist, consider notifying your boss. Once you do, the company is legally required to investigate and stop illegal comments or actions.

Health insurance also can be vexing. Study your policy thoroughly, know what’s covered and keep careful records of health expenses. Your insurer may reduce your coverage or even drop you. (One remedy: Buy coverage through state insurance pools for hard-to-insure workers). And you might not get benefits if you change jobs—always check before resigning your current position.

Appeal decisions you feel are unjust through the insurance company’s appeals process. If that fails, contact your state insurance commissioner. For additional advice, contact your support group, consumer advocate or the American Cancer Society.