Cancer :: Cancer survivors continue to struggle

Cancer survivors may be considered by many as ?the lucky ones?, but new research reveals that many continue to struggle with physical, emotional and psychological problems well after the disease has left them.

The research also reveals a yawning gap in after-care and support services to assist cancer survivors, particularly for those living in regional areas.

The research was conducted by social worker and lecturer at La Trobe University?s Bendigo campus, Dr Jan Pascal, as part of her PhD in social work.

Dr Pascal said her research was inspired by her experiences of surviving breast cancer and her concern over the lack of information available and support for people after hospital care, especially for those living in regional areas.

?Health statistics indicate greater numbers of people diagnosed with cancer are surviving for an increasing length of disease-free years. Despite this trend, much of the research literature available examines cancer patients? illness experiences, rather than survival experiences. This research set out to explore the social and psychological experiences of cancer survivors to assist healthcare professionals and survivors to better understand the experiences, issues and needs.?

Dr Pascal interviewed fifteen self-reported cancer survivors living in central Victoria. The group comprised men and women who had experienced breast, prostate and other forms of cancer.

?This study explores embodiment, emotional, spiritual and psychological aspects of survival up close and personal and in the everyday world. A philosophical theoretical framework is used to interpret the experiences,? Dr Pascal said.

She said there is an implicit assumption that survivors are ?the lucky ones? and that they should ?put it all behind them and get back on with their lives?.

?This study reveals that when people survive cancer, the experience considerably changes their outlook on life, relationships, what they care about, and may increase anxiety and uncertainty about their life because they fear the cancer may return.

?It can alter they way people view their past and how they look to the future.?

Dr Pascal said feelings of guilt and anxiety were common experiences of the cancer survivors interviewed.

?They expressed feelings of guilt for not feeling positive about themselves.

Some reported on-going physical problems such as fatigue, lack of stamina, sexuality and fertility issues, and other ongoing ailments or conditions as a result of cancer treatments.?

She said a common recommendation for people with cancer was to join a support group.

?The study suggests that in some cases this may actually increase anxiety for survivors.

If you bring a mixed group of people together ? some who may have palliative care needs and others who are survivors – it may serve to heighten feelings of guilt in survivors that they should be grateful and not talk about their problems.

The result may be that survivors don?t get the support that they are seeking which may contribute to feelings of being misunderstood and isolated.?

She said the study was a step toward increasing awareness of cancer survivorhood and the need for on-going after-care support services.

?Current follow-up care for cancer survivors focuses on physical health checks. This study highlights the need for after-care that supports a holistic recovery for survivors.?

Dr Pascal said the study would be useful not only to social workers but to multidisciplinary health workers.

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