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Life After Cancer

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Although your friend or family member with cancer may achieve cancer remission, he or she may still be at risk for developing head and neck or another type of cancer. In this section, we will review what life will be like after achieving remission with head and neck cancer.

Restoring quality of life

Many head and neck cancer survivors recover well, both physically and emotionally, and are able to return to a life very similar to what was normal before their cancer journeys began. Others find a “new normal” and settle into their altered lifestyles with relative poise. Many aspects of life may even improve as you both discover an increased appreciation for wellness and family. Even so, you may encounter ongoing challenges directly related to the experience with head and neck cancer. This is not unusual, so it is important to recognize when you both may need help from a counselor, psychotherapist, physical therapist or nutritionist to restore quality of life to the best it can be.

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Supporting others

Cancer survivors and their caregivers have reported that they find it rewarding to share their experience and strategies with others who are at the beginning of their cancer journey, usually through support groups and even Internet forums.1, Meier A, Lyons EJ, Frydman G, Forlenza M, Rimer BK. How cancer survivors provide support on cancer-related Internet mailing lists. J Med Internet Res. 2007 May 14;9(2):e12.2Ziebland S, Chapple A, Dumelow C, Evans J, Prinjha S, Rozmovits L. How the internet affects patients' experience of cancer: a qualitative study. BMJ. 2004 Mar 6;328(7439):564. It helps other patients and caregivers who are currently experiencing head and neck cancer to know that others have successfully navigated treatment and have resumed rich and fulfilling lives. Information that member support groups have found valuable includes reinforcing what they have heard from their physicians (i.e., treatment, monitoring/managing adverse events) in addition to learning how to communicate with their health care professionals.1, Meier A, Lyons EJ, Frydman G, Forlenza M, Rimer BK. How cancer survivors provide support on cancer-related Internet mailing lists. J Med Internet Res. 2007 May 14;9(2):e12.2Ziebland S, Chapple A, Dumelow C, Evans J, Prinjha S, Rozmovits L. How the internet affects patients' experience of cancer: a qualitative study. BMJ. 2004 Mar 6;328(7439):564.

You may also find great satisfaction and fulfillment by working to raise awareness of head and neck cancer and supporting research.

Moving on

Though your loved one will need to remain vigilant for several years after completing treatment to be sure the cancer does not return, there will come a day when cancer is no longer the central thought in your mind and the main consumer of your time and energy. You and the person who had cancer should return to work, hobbies, physical activities and travel when you feel ready to do so. By getting back into a routine and being involved with activities you enjoy, you will help yourself and your loved one to complete your recovery from the extremely stressful time you spent fighting cancer.

You’re so frightened. And life is normal. I mean, yes, there are limitations. I don’t think we ever found anything or anybody saying that in the beginning—that life goes back to normal. It takes a little while, but it goes back to normal. Bonnie S. (wife of a tonsil cancer survivor)

References

1 Meier A, Lyons EJ, Frydman G, Forlenza M, Rimer BK. How cancer survivors provide support on cancer-related Internet mailing lists. J Med Internet Res. 2007 May 14;9(2):e12.

2 Ziebland S, Chapple A, Dumelow C, Evans J, Prinjha S, Rozmovits L. How the internet affects patients' experience of cancer: a qualitative study. BMJ. 2004 Mar 6;328(7439):564.