Health & Wellness

What Does a Cancer Survivorship Care Plan Look Like?

Jun. 13, 2024

Cancer survivorship isn't just about overcoming the disease; it's about embracing a new chapter of life filled with hope and possibility.

It's a journey that begins at the moment of cancer diagnosis and continues throughout a person's life, encompassing everything from the completion of active treatment to managing long-term side effects, preventing recurrence, and optimizing overall health and well-being.

As treatments have improved and more people are living longer after a cancer diagnosis, the focus on cancer survivorship has grown. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), there are currently over 18 million cancer survivors in the United States, a number that continues to rise. This means that cancer survivorship care is becoming an increasingly important aspect of cancer care.

At the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, we recognize that each survivor's journey is unique. Our cancer survivorship and supportive services program, led by cancer survivors and experts themselves, is dedicated to providing comprehensive, compassionate, and personalized care to help you thrive in your life after cancer.

So what does a cancer survivorship care plan look like? At the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, we provide an entire roadmap for long-term health and wellness, complete with expert insights and practical guidance, to help you create a personalized plan that empowers you to thrive in your life after cancer.

The Cancer Survivorship Care Plan: Your Roadmap to Wellness

After completing primary cancer treatment, you begin the next phase of your journey: survivorship. During this time, developing a cancer survivorship care plan is an important step. This plan, a collaboration between you and your healthcare providers, isn't just paperwork; it's a personalized guide that outlines the path ahead, empowering you to make informed decisions about your health.

Your Personalized Roadmap: What's in a Survivorship Care Plan?

A cancer survivorship care plan summarizes your cancer treatment journey and provides a roadmap for your ongoing care. It typically includes the following components:

  • Cancer Treatment Summary: This details the specific treatments you received, including radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormonal therapy, surgery, and any maintenance therapies. The doses and locations of treatments are also documented.
  • Potential Late and Long-Term Effects: Your care plan will address the potential risks of long-term or late effects associated with your cancer treatment. These could include fatigue, peripheral neuropathy, anxiety, depression, hot flashes, and cognitive impairment. Your plan will also discuss ways to manage these effects if they arise.
  • Routine Cancer Screenings: Regular screenings are essential for early detection of any recurrence or new cancer diagnoses. Your plan will outline the recommended screening tests and their frequency, based on your individual risk factors, cancer type, and treatment history.
  • Family History and Genetic Testing: A review of your family's cancer history can help assess your risk for hereditary cancers. If appropriate, your care plan may recommend genetic testing and counseling to further understand your risks and take preventative measures.
  • Healthy Lifestyle Promotion: Your plan will emphasize the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle to reduce your risk of cancer recurrence and improve your overall well-being. It will include recommendations for nutrition, exercise, smoking cessation, alcohol moderation, weight management, and staying up-to-date with vaccinations.

Building a Comprehensive Survivorship Care Program: Your Team of Experts

Cancer survivorship isn't a journey you have to navigate alone. Our University of Cincinnati Cancer Center's multidisciplinary team of experts collaborate to provide comprehensive support throughout your survivorship journey. This team often includes:

  • Survivorship Provider: A physician or nurse practitioner specializing in cancer survivorship, guiding you through the survivorship process and coordinating your care.
  • Survivorship Nurse Navigator: A survivorship nurse navigator works side by side with our providers in the Survivorship Clinic to co-create survivorship care plans, listen attentively to ensure understanding, connect patients with specialists as needed, and offer longitudinal care management through scheduled check-in calls and visits.
  • Oncology Primary Care Physician: A primary care physician experienced in cancer care to provide regular check-ins and manage any other chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Dietitian: A nutrition expert who can provide personalized dietary recommendations to promote healing, manage side effects, and reduce the risk of recurrence.
  • Integrative Oncology Provider: A physician from the Osher Center for Integrative Health at UC to develop a whole-person care plan, including lifestyle modifications, nutrition, acupuncture, massage therapy, meditation/mindfulness-based stress reduction, tai chi, yoga and other complementary therapies as needed.
  • Exercise Physiologist: A specialist who can develop a safe and effective exercise plan tailored to your individual needs and fitness level, helping you regain strength, flexibility, and energy.
  • Mental Health Providers: Therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists who can offer counseling and support to address emotional distress, anxiety, depression, or other psychological concerns that may arise after cancer treatment.
  • Rehabilitation Specialists: Physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists who can help you regain physical function, manage pain, and improve your quality of life after treatment.
  • Other Specialists: Depending on your specific needs, your team may include specialists in areas such as cardiology, neurology, or endocrinology to address any long-term effects of cancer treatment or other health concerns.

This collaborative approach ensures that all aspects of your health and well-being are addressed, providing you with the comprehensive care you need to thrive in survivorship.

Patient-Centered Survivorship Care: Your Priorities at the Forefront

At the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, we recognize that every survivor's experience is unique. That's why we prioritize a patient-centered approach, tailoring care to your individual needs, preferences, and cancer type.  We listen to your concerns, respect your values, and work with you to develop a personalized care plan that aligns with your goals and priorities. Whether you're looking to manage side effects, return to work, or simply find emotional support, our team is dedicated to helping you achieve the best possible quality of life after cancer.

Integrating Primary Care: A Partnership for Long-Term Health

The University of Cincinnati Cancer Center developed the region’s first and only Oncology Primary Care Clinic where patients can receive primary care services from providers experienced in cancer survivorship and supportive care. Oncology primary care physicians provide the following to patients:

  • Monitor overall health: Conduct regular checkups, order necessary tests, and manage any chronic health conditions you may have.
  • Address late effects of treatment: Help manage any lingering side effects or complications from your cancer treatment.
  • Screen for recurrence or new cancers: Ensure that you receive appropriate follow-up care and screenings based on your individual risk factors.
  • Coordinate care with specialists: If needed, your primary care provider can refer you to other specialists within the survivorship program or elsewhere to address specific needs.

By partnering with an oncology primary care provider, you can receive comprehensive and coordinated care that addresses all aspects of your health, both related and unrelated to cancer.

Living Well Beyond Cancer: Embracing a Fulfilling Life

Cancer survivorship is about thriving in all aspects of life, not just managing your health. Here are some key areas to focus on:

  • Returning to Work or School: Many survivors return to work or school after cancer treatment. If you need assistance with this transition, your care team can provide support and resources.
  • Renewing Intimacy and Sexuality: Cancer treatment can sometimes affect intimacy and sexuality. Your care team can address these concerns and connect you with specialists if needed.
  • Coping with Emotional Challenges: It's normal to experience a range of emotions after cancer, such as anxiety, depression, or fear of recurrence. Your care team can provide support groups, counseling services, or referrals to mental health professionals.
  • Finding Purpose and Meaning: A cancer diagnosis can prompt you to re-evaluate your priorities and what matters most in life. Consider exploring activities that bring you joy and fulfillment, whether it's spending time with loved ones, volunteering, traveling, or pursuing hobbies.
  • Building a Support Network: Surrounding yourself with supportive friends, family members, and cancer support groups can be invaluable in your survivorship journey.

Remember, you are not alone. There are many resources available to help you thrive throughout your survivorship journey.

Nurturing Your Health: Key Aspects of Cancer Survivorship

Thriving in cancer survivorship goes beyond medical check-ups. It's about nourishing your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and well-being. Here are some key aspects to focus on:

The Power of Nutrition: Fueling Your Recovery and Preventing Recurrence

At the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, patients have access to specialized oncology dietitians and lifestyle medicine providers because what you eat can significantly impact your health after cancer treatment. A balanced and nutritious diet can help:

  • Reduce the Risk of Cancer Recurrence: Studies suggest that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein may lower the risk of certain cancers returning. It's also important to limit your intake of red and processed meats, sugary drinks, and highly processed foods, as these have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
  • Manage Treatment Side Effects: Eating nutritious foods can help you cope with common side effects of cancer treatment, such as fatigue, nausea, changes in appetite, and difficulty swallowing. Your healthcare team, including a registered dietitian, can help you create a meal plan that addresses these challenges and supports your recovery.
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of various health problems, including some cancers. Your care team can guide you on healthy weight management strategies that include both diet and exercise.
  • Boost Your Energy Levels and Overall Health: Eating a balanced diet provides your body with the essential nutrients it needs to heal, repair, and function optimally. This can help improve your energy levels, strengthen your immune system, and enhance your overall quality of life.

Physical Activity: Moving Towards Wellness

Regular physical activity is another cornerstone of cancer survivorship care. Exercise offers numerous benefits, including:

  • Reduced Cancer Recurrence Risk: Studies have shown that engaging in regular physical activity can lower the risk of certain cancers returning.
  • Improved Physical Function: Exercise can help you regain strength, flexibility, and endurance after treatment, improving your ability to perform daily activities and enjoy life.
  • Enhanced Emotional Well-being: Physical activity has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, promoting emotional well-being and a positive outlook.
  • Better Sleep: Regular exercise can help improve sleep quality, which is often disrupted during and after cancer treatment.

Getting Started with Exercise

The Survivorship and Supportive Services program at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center offers a Cancer Exercise Wellness Program, providing individualized plans for patients. Our instructors can provide guidance to patients at all levels of physical abilities.

We also partner with the Osher Center for Integrative Health at UC to provide patients with yoga therapy classes at no cost, helping them build strength, soothe the mind, improve posture, flexibility, and balance, sharpen concentration, and enable relaxation.

If you're new to exercise or haven't been active for a while, it's important to start slowly and gradually increase your activity level. Talk to your doctor or an exercise physiologist to develop a safe and effective exercise plan that meets your individual needs and fitness level. They can also recommend enjoyable and sustainable activities, helping you make exercise a regular part of your life.

Your Emotional Well-being: Healing from the Inside Out

Cancer survivorship is an emotional journey as much as it is a physical one. It's common to experience a range of emotions after cancer treatment, such as anxiety, depression, fear of recurrence, or survivor's guilt.

Your survivorship care team understands the importance of emotional well-being and can offer various resources to support you:

  • Counseling and Therapy: Individual or group therapy can provide a safe space to process your emotions, develop coping mechanisms, and build resilience.
  • Support Groups: Connecting with other cancer survivors can provide a sense of community and understanding. Many hospitals and cancer centers offer support groups specifically for survivors.
  • Mind-Body Therapies: Practices like mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and art therapy can help you manage stress, reduce anxiety, and improve your overall well-being. View the Osher Center for Integrative Health at UC’s upcoming schedule of virtual mindfulness classes here.

Implementing Your Cancer Survivorship Care Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide

Creating and following your survivorship care plan is a journey towards empowered wellness. Here's how you can take an active role in this process:

Partnering with Your Healthcare Team: Crafting Your Personalized Plan

Your cancer survivorship care plan is a collaborative effort between you and your healthcare team. It's a personalized roadmap that evolves with your needs and should be regularly reviewed and updated.

Step 1: Initiate the Conversation

Don't hesitate to ask your cancer specialist if they provide survivorship care plans at your treatment center. At the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, we offer comprehensive survivorship care for patients treated both within and outside of our network, regardless of how long ago your treatment was completed.

Step 2: Gather Your Medical Records

Your healthcare team will need access to your medical records, including details of your cancer diagnosis, treatment history, and any relevant test results. This information helps them understand your specific needs and potential risks.

Step 3: Discuss Your Concerns and Goals

Open communication is key. Share any concerns you have about your health, lingering side effects, emotional well-being, or returning to your daily routines. Discuss your goals for survivorship, whether it's regaining physical strength, managing fatigue, or simply feeling like yourself again.

Step 4: Collaborate on Your Care Plan

Work with your healthcare team to develop a comprehensive survivorship care plan that addresses your individual needs and priorities. This plan should include a schedule for follow-up appointments, recommended screenings, and strategies for managing any potential late effects of treatment.

Step 5: Review and Update Regularly

Your survivorship care plan isn't static; it should evolve as your needs change over time. Schedule regular check-ins with your healthcare team to review and update your plan, ensuring it continues to support your ongoing health and well-being.

University of Cincinnati Cancer Center: Your Partner in Cancer Survivorship

If you're seeking comprehensive and compassionate cancer survivorship care, the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center’s Survivorship and Supportive Services Program offers many resources and expertise to support you on your journey. Our team of dedicated professionals, including survivor-led providers, is committed to helping you thrive beyond cancer.

To learn more about our survivorship care services or to schedule a consultation, please call 513-585-UCCC.