Report finds cancer patients require increased support post-treatment
A new report on the cancer patient experience found successes are often followed by periods of isolation and significant struggle.
More than 30,000 Canadian cancer patients participated in the massive study conducted by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer that explored their feelings during and after their successful treatment. Over half of the respondents said they faced sizable challenges in their attempt to return to normal life and were informed their plight was normal. Many patients experience physical challenges (fatigue or changes in sexual function), emotional challenges (including depression or a fear of cancer’s return) and practical challenges (returning to work or school or financial concerns).
The findings of the report did not surprise staff of local cancer agencies who believe patients need additional support while transitioning out of treatment and adjusting to a new routine.
“When they finish their treatment cancer doesn’t end,” said Mona Delisle, director of quality, safety and experience with Cancer Control Alberta. “They have to find a new normal and sometimes we haven’t been very good at helping them to readjust.”
“Sometimes patients feel like when they’re finished with the cancer centre, they’re a little bit dropped. When you get a cancer diagnosis, quite often cancer takes over your life. We are your primary concern, you are here sometimes for months or years.”
The report also found one in three patients would not address their concerns regarding a return to regular life with their doctor.
Charlotte Kessler, a participant in the study, braved brain surgery and two years of chemotherapy after suffering a grand mal seizure and receiving a devastating diagnosis in 2013. The 36-year-old says she felt lost after her treatment for the tumour ended.
“When I was in treatment, it was easy to explain why I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do,” said Kessler. “Why I had to miss things with my family. Why I couldn’t be there for my daughter as much as I want. Why I was feeling terrible.”
Kessler says she slowly adjusted as she transitioned from the team of doctors and nurses that she had befriended during her years of chemotherapy to a new medical team. She was reassured that her feelings post-treatment were normal.
“It did take me about a year of kind of pushing and being really proactive,” said Kessler. “We need to be standing up saying (help) is what we want and what we need. We may not know exactly what the specifics are of what we need for help but the fact is that we just need help. Then it’s up to healthcare workers and the team to find that and find those resources and support.”
Kessler says she now has a dedicated oncologist who helped her connect with a psychologist.
Cancer Control Alberta representatives admit that the solutions for cancer patients are not easy as the healthcare system is only beginning to understand the issues.
“It’s working within Alberta Health Services and our partners in community and looking at what resources already exist and how do we connect,” said Delisle. “I think our biggest problem is we’re not necessarily connecting patients at the right time to the resources that already exist.”
To see the findings of the report visit Canadian Partnership Against Cancer's - Living with Cancer: A Report on the Patient Experience
With files from CTV's Jaclyn Brown