Health Break | Published March 24, 2008 | Written by Aileen S. Galley, ACSW, LSW, administrative director, Cancer Program at Mount Nittany Medical Center, former chair of the Pink Zone Committee

Cancer Survivorship

You have cancer. Now what? Now you are a survivor.

One of our country's most visible cancer survivors, Lance Armstrong, educates the public through the Lance Armstrong Foundation, that "…a survivor is anyone battling cancer. A survivor might be the person diagnosed, a spouse, a child, a friend or any caregiver. Survivorship begins at diagnosis, the moment your battle with cancer begins." Can this be an effective way to use language to instill hope?

Some people living with cancer report they can't be a survivor at diagnosis, as this title doesn't imply any milestones such as completion of treatment or years of being disease free. The distinction of survivorship at diagnosis is intended to be a powerful title. It informs others that a cancer diagnosis means you are living with cancer.

There is no doubt, a cancer diagnosis represents a frightening time—one that causes questions about survival and fears about what to expect during treatment. We can boast of the hope inspiring statistics that there are ten million cancer survivors in the United States. We can look at how pervasive cancer has become—3 out of 4 families will help care for a loved one with cancer. Still, there are some cancers accompanied by a less optimistic prognosis. People can experience a recurrence of cancer or even a new and different cancer, years later. The concept of survivorship is never more important than at these difficult times.

For cancer survivors, a critical aspect of coping is access to information and connection with other survivors. Support groups and the internet offer vehicles for these connections. Another opportunity is in State College on Saturday, April 5, 2008 sponsored by Mount Nittany Medical Center and the American Cancer Society. Navigating Your Way Through The Health Care System: A conference for patients and families facing cancer will provide participants with practical tools on how to deal with life with cancer. Attendees at the conference can expect:

  • An oncology surgeon, providing an update on current advances in cancer treatment

  • A local attorney, sharing information on finances and decision making

  • Evidenced-based integrative medicine approaches to dealing with cancer

  • Insight into navigation of the health care system and the resources available

  • How to manage life after cancer treatment ends

  • How to care for yourself while caring for someone with cancer

  • Nutritional information to boost healing during treatment and after

  • A panel of survivors and caregivers sharing their experiences

  • A wellness room where participants can receive massage, learn yoga stretches and meditation techniques
  • Inspiration from our keynote speaker, Ryan McGarry, who will share his story of facing Stage IV Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in the year 2000. Today, Ryan is a full-time medical student, pursuing a career in pediatric oncology.

Hosted at the Penn State Conference Center, interested community members may call 1.888.227.5445, option 3 to register. On this special and inspiring day, no one will wonder if they are the only survivor facing these issues. Language can be a powerful force. Being a cancer survivor is a powerful thing.

Aileen S. Galley, ACSW, LSW, is the Administrative Director of the Penn State Cancer Institute at Mount Nittany Medical Center.