A record number of North Americans – nearly 15 million – are cancer survivors. Earlier and better screenings and advanced treatment options are a huge reason so many folks can say, “I beat cancer!”
If you’re among this number, it’s important to know that thriving after you triumph over cancer is much more certain if you and your doctor create a new owner’s manual for YOU. We’re talking about a tailor-made, long-range health plan. Unfortunately, few survivors are adopting these life-extending road maps, even though everyone who’s beaten cancer needs one, according to the Institute of Medicine.
Why is it so important? How you live day-to-day can do a lot to protect you from recurrence of your cancer or development of a second cancer. It also can help you avoid the health problems that can come in the aftermath of effective anti-cancer treatment. For example, a new European study followed 2,168 breast-cancer survivors for up to 42 years and found that radiation treatments increased their risk for heart attacks. But living each day in a way that reduces the risk can make a big difference.
So here are the five must-know facts about establishing your cancer survivorship plan:
No. 1: They’re for everyone who’s had a cancer diagnosis. Many cancer-treatment centers and even some insurance plans help new survivors and their doctors write a plan. But you can look into developing one even if your cancer is way in your past – whether you’re a survivor of an adult cancer or had cancer in childhood. One great resource:
JourneyForward.org, an online program from National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship and the University of California Los Angeles Cancer Survivorship Center, can help you and your doctor build a tailor-made plan for a long and healthy future.
No. 2: The foundation of the plan is a healthy lifestyle. Quitting smoking, making smart choices at mealtime and getting regular physical activity could lower your risk for recurrence of many types of cancer. Your goal is to avoid eating anything that increases body-wide inflammation, like added sugar and sugar syrups, saturated-fat-laden red meats or any grain but 100 percent whole grains. Your activity plan: With your doc’s OK, aim to walk 10,000 steps a day; after month one, add 30 minutes of resistance exercise; after month two, add 20 minutes of cardio three times a week. Added benefit: Smart living (and maintaining a healthy weight) can lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, brittle bones and arthritis.
No. 3: You need the facts. Make sure you are well-informed about the type of cancer you’ve survived; have all the details about your treatments and their potential health consequences, and about the follow-ups you need. Ask about symptoms you should watch for and who you should contact if you notice any.
No. 4: Reducing stress protects your future. Stress pumps up adrenal hormones such as cortisol; when levels are chronically high, you increase your risk of everything from heart disease to depression – and the newest insights suggest that stress also may increase your risk for cancer recurrence. Joining a support group can do a lot to dispel anxiety about what you’ve been through and where you’re headed. Also, learning soothing relaxation techniques, like mindfulness meditation or progressive muscle relaxation, can help ease stress.
No. 5: Get experts on your team. If you’re wondering whether your treatments are affecting your health or what your specific risks may be, consider reaching out to an expert in this new field of health care. More and more cancer centers have clinics that specialize in long-term care for cancer survivors. You can find one through the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (www.canceradvocacy.org). At Dr. Mike’s Cleveland Clinic, the High-Five Cancer Survivor’s Clinic serves the survivors of childhood and young-adult cancers. It’s called that because we think every survivor deserves a high-five and the chance to thrive.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.