Breast cancer has changed over the years from a terminal disease to a chronic illness, with survivors living long after treatment. In comparison, the time when patients must undergo treatment is short compared to the amount of time they will live as a cancer survivor. Men and women who experience breast cancer may have to make lifestyle changes during survivorship, which is why the Cone Health Cancer Center has created a new survivorship program to help patients transition from treatment into a new normal life. Cone Health’s Survivorship Program connects a multidisciplinary team of social workers, nutritionists, chaplains, genetic counselors, nurses and others, with cancer survivors to answer any needs that may arise after treatment.
As of now, the survivorship program is reaching breast cancer survivors, but is working to expand into all categories of cancer survivorship.
It is common for cancer survivors to experience fatigue, body and weight changes, sexual dysfunction and anxiety after their treatment has ended. Men who experience breast cancer may struggle initially as breast cancer is commonly thought to be a disease restricted to women. It is important to learn how to cope with the fear that cancer might return, as well as how to develop and maintain healthy relationships with friends and family. Patients are encouraged to talk through any concerns or needs they have with their survivorship team to find ways to help manage difficulties on their own or be referred to specialists when necessary.
The survivorship program staff also partners with your primary care physician to keep him or her updated with the details of your treatment and what your follow-up schedule is.
Since each patient’s needs are different, the survivorship team creates individualized care plans that detail the patient’s diagnosis, the treatment the patient received, and a schedule for follow-up visits. They review the care plan in person, so the patient can ask questions, and they provide a list of support groups, classes and other resources offered by Cone Health or in the community. Support and care after cancer treatment can help everyone, men and women, reclaim their lives and well-being. Cone Health understands this, which is why they have an entire team of support staff at the Cancer Center dedicated to helping patients through treatment, as well as supporting and empowering them in their survivorship.
Heather Mackey is the nurse practitioner of the Breast Cancer Survivorship program at the Cone Health Cancer Center at Wesley Long. She received her Bachelor of Science in biology and her Master of Science in nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1993 and 2001, respectively.