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  • Shifting focus after cancer treatment

    Shifting focus after cancer treatment
    11 December 2017

    In my role as a Nurse Practitioner Candidate in Medical Oncology at Flinders Medical Centre, I work with people throughout their cancer journey, including immediately after diagnosis, through treatment and beyond.

    It’s that ‘beyond’ that I want to focus on, because it often doesn’t receive the same attention as other stages of the cancer trajectory. I see people facing the challenges of life after cancer on a daily basis. While the side effects of cancer treatment are well-documented and accepted by patients and loved ones alike, not everyone stops to think about how those physical and emotional side effects can continue once treatment has ended.

    The challenges experienced can range right across the spectrum. It may involve recovering from acute toxicities of treatment, body image concerns, sexual concerns, relationships with partners/friends/colleagues, fatigue, neuropathic side effects, work related concerns, child care, fear of cancer recurrence, fear of cancer treatment toxicities, and genetic concerns. Some patients just don’t know where to start after the intensity of their appointment schedule settles down, while some people need the reassurance it is okay to exercise. As you can see, it’s an immensely individual issue. My goal is to understand what is important for the person in front of me, and to try and work with their priorities. 

    I choose to refer my patients to the Healthy Living after Cancer program because it offers them the opportunity to normalise some of the post-treatment concerns they might experience. Through the program, they can speak to experienced staff who will help them set personalised goals, assisting with their long-term recovery and return to full function. I really focus on working towards self-management and encouraging a healthy lifestyle for cancer survivors, and the Healthy Living after Cancer program is perfect for assisting patients to find their feet again. 

    I re-inforce with patients that we expect healthy patients who embrace healthy lifestyle behaviours to have fewer problems with long-term treatment-related toxicities and other chronic health conditions.

    But it’s not just the physical benefits that I notice. The majority of patients I approach are positive about the program. It is a welcomed change in mindset for many patients to set goals and re-evaluate them.

    I really hope the HLAC program continues. It’s an opportunity to equip patients with the strategies they need to stay well in the future, and even minimise the risk of cancer recurrence and chronic diseases. 

    If you or a loved one have finished cancer treatment, I encourage you to call 13 11 20 to see if Healthy Living after Cancer could make a difference to your future.

    Michael Fitzgerald
    Oncology Nurse Practitioner Candidate
    Cancer Services—Medical Oncology
    Flinders Medical Centre

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