A diagnosis of cancer can evoke a storm of emotions and unwelcomed changes for many individuals and their families. As individuals go through treatment, they look forward to returning to the comfort and familiarity they once knew before hearing the word ‘cancer.’
However, it is often the case that as a person moves beyond active treatment, they realize that things may never return to the ‘normal’ they once knew. While transitioning into survivorship is a celebrated time, it can also be a very confusing and unsettling time in an individual’s life as they move to recover some semblance of control.
“For many, the most difficult part of the cancer journey is the transition phase of finishing treatment and trying to get back to ‘normal’,” says Carolyn Jones, social worker with Eastern Health’s Cancer Care Program.
It is often within the first two years following treatment that many individuals may experience some distress related to:
- physical changes;
- fear of recurrence or secondary cancers;
- side effects of treatment; confusion about medical follow up;
- struggles with sexuality and intimacy;
- sense of loss and vulnerability;
- family and lifestyle adjustments;
- navigating re-entry into employment and personal relationships; and
- uncertainty about nutrition.
It became evident to me and the rest of the Cancer Care social work team that patients could use continued support beyond active treatment. But how could we help these individuals?
The answer came to us from a social work colleague in Nova Scotia, who told us about Cancer Transitions: Moving Beyond Treatment Program, which was developed by the Cancer Support Community in partnership with the Live Strong Foundation. This program is designed to support and empower cancer survivors as they transition from active treatment to post-treatment.
In Fall 2012, we introduced Cancer Transitions: Moving Beyond Treatment. Carolyn and I took on the task of co-facilitating the seven-week program. The weekly sessions include a 30-minute fitness session guided by an exercise specialist, followed by a two-hour group discussion led by social workers and expert guest speakers such as physiotherapists, dieticians, medical oncologists and other invited guests.
“I have counselled many patients who’ve asked me if they were ‘going crazy’ as they thought they should be feeling better instead of worse. This group helps these people realize they are not alone in this journey by linking them with a support network of others who are experiencing the same distress,” explains Carolyn.
The weekly sessions, followed by a one month booster session, include the following discussion topics:
- Get Back to Wellness: Take Control of Your Survivorship
- Exercise for Wellness: Customized Exercise
- Emotional Health and Well-Being: From Patient to Survivor
- Nutrition Beyond Cancer
- Medical Management Beyond Cancer: What you Need to Know
- Moving Beyond Treatment: Next Steps Towards Survivorship
To date, a total of 23 individuals have completed the Cancer Transitions Program. Feedback from them has been positive! As one participant put it…
“This program opened whole new ways to help me think about my life after cancer.”
Others agreed, saying “I would recommend this group to anybody surviving cancer. Everyone should have an opportunity to go to a group like this after cancer treatment,” and “This is an amazing opportunity for post cancer survivors to take part in.”
We also asked past participants what they liked best about the program, some said…
“Meeting others who have gone through similar experiences and finding tools to put structure into my life.”
“Meeting other people who gave insight into what we were experiencing – understanding that we are not alone and having discussions about nutrition, relationships and depression.”
As a co-facilitator, it has been a privilege to be a part of such an initiative. While each individual brings with them their own unique cancer experience, very quickly many common and shared experiences emerge. The power of the group is undeniable when we watch participants walk away inspired with a greater sense of wellbeing and healing.
We are currently offering a session to 11 cancer survivors and are planning another session for Spring 2014. If you or a loved one would like to find out more about this program, please call (709) 777-7604. ■
This story was written by Elaine Holden, a social worker with Eastern Health’s Cancer Care Program.