By Karen Oslund, Executive Director

I recently had the honor of being in Dr. Jay Joseph’s office when a patient got to ring the big, brass bell, symbolizing her completion of radiation therapy treatments for cancer. It was loud!

The moment that a cancer patient finishes a course of treatment, whether radiation or chemotherapy, is cause for a celebration. It might be nurses busting out the confetti, or the patient may be invited to ring a bell, such as the one in Dr. Joseph’s office. But after the excitement and relief of finally being finished with treatment for cancer, what happens next?

National Cancer Survivor’s Day is June 3 this year, a day to celebrate and be inspired by the millions of people around the world who are living with, through, and beyond their cancer diagnosis. The National Cancer Survivor’s Day Foundation defines a cancer survivor as “anyone living with a history of cancer – from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life.” This definition purposely includes patients still in active treatment for cancer, as well as those whose cancer diagnosis and treatment are far back in the past.

Due to advances in detection and treatment, more people are surviving cancer than ever before. The population of 15 million cancer survivors in the United States is getting bigger all the time. Cancer survivors have unique physical, emotional, and financial needs that may last long after treatment. It is important for cancer survivors to ask their doctor for a schedule of what follow-up medical care and surveillance tests are necessary in the future.

Cancer treatment can be a whirlwind of appointments and tests. All of the busyness can postpone the emotional work of processing the reality of being a cancer patient and survivor. Common emotional side effects of cancer might include fear of recurrence, anger, guilt, depression, pressure to feel grateful, and the stress related to the financial and professional toll of coping with a serious illness. Joining a cancer support group can help sort out and address these feelings. CRC has cancer support groups that meet regularly both inland and on the coast. Today, there are also many online support communities and chat rooms for cancer patients and survivors.

At the Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County, our lending library has resources that specifically address the survivorship phase of cancer.   I also want to recommend two excellent websites for up-to-date information. The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (canceradvocacy.org) was founded in 1986 and took on the task of replacing the phrase “cancer victim” with “cancer survivor.” This website is a wealth of information and advocacy resources. Cancer Care (cancercare.org) is a website we recommend frequently for its comprehensive information about many aspects of cancer, including survivorship. The Cancer Care website has an archive of recorded webinars and podcasts, so you can listen while doing house or yard work. These are just two of many good websites, and each contains links to additional quality resources.

Advocacy for cancer survivors surely includes working for the kind of world where a cancer diagnosis does not result in financial devastation for anyone. For too many folks, it takes years to recover financially from a serious disease (cancer being just one) when the focus should be getting well physically.

National Cancer Survivor’s Day is a good time to reflect on the amazing progress that has been, and continues to be made, against cancer. I am inspired every day by the brave people I meet who are fighting cancer, by those who proudly live years beyond their diagnosis, and by the hope that one day soon, cancer will become a fully treatable condition that every single person survives.

CRC’s Cancer Awareness Campaign is sponsored by The County of Mendocino Health and Human Services Agency:  “Healthy People, Healthy Communities.”