LAUREL, MS (WDAM) - Three of the four stages of breast cancer have a five-year survival rate of more than seventy percent. Even though those numbers are encouraging, some patients still struggle with life after cancer.
"I have patients all the time who will say to me, 'You know, I'm five years out, and I live in constant fear that my cancer is going to come back.'," said Dr. Shannon Penland of Jefferson Medical Center in Laurel.
Survivorship is what Penland and other doctors try to focus on when treating their patients.
"There's a lot of issues that go on for the cancer patient after they get their 'five year, oh, you're cured'," said Penland. "Anxiety, depression, fear that the cancer is going to return."
Others struggle with chronic fatigue or dealing with physical changes that either they're not happy with or that make them feel less attractive to their partner.
"I think it's very naïve to think that we understand what a cancer patient goes through, from the time they're diagnosed as they go through treatment, and then beyond their treatment," said Penland.
But there are people who understand. Counseling services for survivors are offered in a number of ways. The American Cancer Society has outlets such as the Cancer Survivor Network and Reach to Recovery, where people with similar stories can lean on each other for comfort. Penland uses a specific survivorship manual through the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) as a resource for her patients.
"it's coming more and more to the forefront for me that I have to start talking to people about surviving their cancer from the very day they're diagnosed," explained Penland.
But just as no cancer is exactly the same, neither are the ways that we respond.
"I certainly have many patients that survive and go on and their life is wonderful and it's actually more full, believe it or not, than before cancer, because they learn to live every day like it's their last day," said Penland. "They learn to take it a day at a time and enjoy their lives."