A cancer survivor is anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, from the time of diagnosis through the rest of their life. With Vermont’s aging population, innovations in early detection, and improvements in diagnosis and treatment, there are more cancer survivors than ever living in the state.
Diagnosis of cancer can be a tremendous burden. Cancer is not always a disabling or fatal disease, but it can have long-term physical and emotional effects on an individual’s life. When the disease is terminal, compassionate and individualized end-of-life care is essential.
After completing active cancer treatment, cancer survivors need coordinated follow-up care to address late side-effects, as well as to promote healthy behaviors and early detection of recurrent or second cancers. Having a survivorship care plan that includes a record of the patient’s cancer treatment and follow-up care recommendations is critical. A survivorship care plan should be used by cancer survivors and their primary care provider to guide continuous care.
Vermont’s Commission on Cancer centers are beginning to use survivorship care plans. By 2019 they will be distributed to all patients seen at Commission on Cancer centers.
Living with a cancer diagnosis can significantly affect a person’s emotional well-being. Cancer survivors may fear cancer recurrence, as well as more generalized worry, fear of the future, fear of death, trouble sleeping, fatigue and trouble concentrating. Emotional support is vital in addressing these issues and restoring a cancer survivor’s quality of life.
Cancer survivors also face unique challenges to their physical health. Survivors are at greater risk for recurrence and for developing secondary cancers due to the effects of treatment, unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, or underlying genetics.
Survivors can improve survival and quality of life by adopting cancer prevention habits such quitting tobacco, being active, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and accessing regular follow-up care.
Hospice care is crucial when a cancer diagnosis is terminal. Hospice services include management of pain and other symptoms, as well as emotional and spiritual support for the patient and their loved ones. These services are available in every region of Vermont.
When a patient’s preferences for treatment in the final stages of life are clear, the patient and their family members are able to devote their energy to care and compassion. An advance directive ensures that end-of-life and other critical health care decisions are clear and will be followed.
All Vermonters should complete and register advance directives through the Vermont Advance Directive Registry.
A comprehensive collection of health data is used to monitor cancer in Vermont. The Vermont Cancer Registry, a statewide cancer surveillance system, collects information on all cases of cancer diagnosed and treated in Vermont. Other sources of data, such as population health surveys and vital records are used to provide high-quality cancer reporting. These data help us work to effectively reduce the burden of cancer in our state.