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Life After Cancer

98681721_8Many head and neck cancer survivors recover very well, both physically and emotionally, and are able to return to a life that is 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. You may even find that many aspects of your life improve as your appreciation for your wellness and time with loved ones increases. Even so, you may encounter ongoing challenges directly related to your experience with head and neck cancer. This is not unusual, so it is important to recognize when you may need help from a counselor, psychotherapist, physical therapist or nutritionist to restore your quality of life to the best it can be.

For example, a study evaluating 46 cancer survivors after treatment for head and neck cancer (e.g., laryngeal cancer) found that they had complications several years later. In particular, depression was a problem, with 28 percent of the survivors having moderate depression. Most patients were still at risk for developing head and neck cancer or another type of cancer; 46 percent of head and neck cancer survivors were smoking and 86 percent were drinking alcohol.1 Terrell JE, Fisher SG, Wolf GT. Long-term quality of life after treatment of laryngeal cancer. The Veterans Affairs Laryngeal Cancer Study Group. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1998 Sep;124(9):964-71.  If you achieve disease remission and still smoke and/or drink excessively, then you should consider obtaining counseling or other services to help you stop smoking and/or drinking.2Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2014. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2014. All rights reserved. Accessed June 18, 2014. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.NCCN.org. NATIONAL COMPREHENSIVE CANCER NETWORK®, NCCN®, NCCN GUIDELINES®, and all other NCCN Content are trademarks owned by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc.

The head and neck cancer survivors in the same study did very well in their physical recoveries. For example, only 2 percent of the survivors needed to still receive nutrition through a feeding tube, which suggests that most patients could swallow and eat.1 Terrell JE, Fisher SG, Wolf GT. Long-term quality of life after treatment of laryngeal cancer. The Veterans Affairs Laryngeal Cancer Study Group. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1998 Sep;124(9):964-71.

Whether you recover well or continue to struggle with challenges related to your head and neck cancer, life after cancer is ultimately what you make of it. Cancer survivors typically advise other survivors to take pride in what they have overcome, value their wellness and find meaning in what they do with the rest of their lives.

Supporting others in their cancer journeys

Cancer survivors have reported that they find it rewarding to share their experience and strategies with others who are at the beginning of their cancer journeys, usually through support groups and even Internet support groups.3, 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):e12.4 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. It helps other patients who are currently experiencing head and neck cancer to know that others have effectively navigated treatment and were successfully treated. Information that member support groups have found valuable includes reinforcing what they have heard from their physicians (e.g., treatment, monitoring/managing adverse events) in addition to learning how to communicate with their health care professionals.3, 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):e12.4 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.

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Life starts to get back to normal, and then you have moments when you remember. You think, “Wait a second, this is not important. I’m not going to get upset about this. It’s not a big deal.”Barry W. (palatomaxillary and low grade adenocarcinoma of minor salivary gland cancer survivor)

References

1 Terrell JE, Fisher SG, Wolf GT. Long-term quality of life after treatment of laryngeal cancer. The Veterans Affairs Laryngeal Cancer Study Group. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1998 Sep;124(9):964-71.

2 Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2014. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2014. All rights reserved. Accessed June 18, 2014. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.NCCN.org. NATIONAL COMPREHENSIVE CANCER NETWORK®, NCCN®, NCCN GUIDELINES®, and all other NCCN Content are trademarks owned by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc.

3 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.

4 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.