Majority of cancer survivors struggle to adjust post-treatment, new study reports

Vancouver-based Penelope Hedges went through six months of chemotherapy and successfully battled ovarian cancer but, like more than 67 per cent of other cancer patients, found adjusting to life post-treatment an unexpected challenge.

A newly released study by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer looked at the experiences of over 13,000 Canadians with cancer and found that the majority of survivors report difficulties including fatigue and depression after the initial treatment is over.

Nearly half said physical and emotional challenges in the first six months to year are the hardest. 

Patients feel alone after months of highly scheduled treatments with regular blood tests, medical visits and chemotherapy appointments, Hedges told CBC host of The Early Edition Stephen Quinn.  

“Right after those treatments end, they say ‘Well that’s great, we’ll see you in three months’ and suddenly, like a foster child aging out of the system, you are abandoned for three months and you are very much on your own in a big city,” she said.  

Common struggles

It’s usually easy for survivors to talk to an expert about medical concerns, but it’s more difficult to find psychological help, Hedges said. Finding a new normal can be difficult. 

“Your psyche is totally rung out, you feel pretty lousy,” she said. “You have to develop a new way of life again after having been scheduled so much.”

The report found that 80 per cent of patients report physical challenges, like being tired or having sexual difficulties, and 70 per cent say they are plagued by emotional issues such as depression or fear of cancer returning.

A quarter were not satisfied with the emotional support they received during outpatient cancer care.

Changes to the system

Lisa McCune, the director of patient experience at B.C. Cancer Agency, said the report’s findings are key to improving support for cancer survivors.

“[It] really shows us how significant these concerns are,” she said. “Now we have the data that we need to make the changes so we are reviewing our cancer care services support.”

With files from The Early Edition.

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