After cancer treatment, then what?

  • Dr. Amy Shaw, the medical director of the Cancer Survivorship Program, talks with breast cancer patient, Jodi Evans, as she performs a physical exam at Redwood Regional Medical Group in Santa Rosa, California on Monday, September 26, 2011. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

One of the biggest challenges of surviving breast cancer is not the physical recovery, but recovery from the experience of having cancer. It can last years after everything has healed in the body.

An emerging area in the health-care field is "cancer survivorship," a treatment approach focusing on a patient's overall healing and not solely on getting rid of the cancer.

As Dr. Amy Shaw explains it, "A survivorship program partners with a patient's primary-care doctor and is the bridge between the cancer world and the rest of your life."

Shaw, formerly medical director of Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation's Women's Health Center, joined Redwood Regional Medical Group in Santa Rosa in June and has created its new Cancer Survivorship Program.

The goals of the Cancer Survivorship Program are two: staying well during treatment and strategizing what to do to achieve optimum health afterward.

Shaw is helping coordinate care for people who have finished treatment and is doing ongoing evaluation for treatment side effects, including late-onset problems such as heart disease or skin disorders that may surface several years after surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.

She and nurse practitioner Marlene Lennon are also asking patients about their quality of life before getting cancer and about prior medical issues.

When people complete cancer treatment, their appointments with cancer specialists typically may end and their care is entrusted to a primary-care doctor. A key part of the Cancer Survivorship Program is educating those physicians about health issues that might arise in patients who have had cancer.

While the Survivorship Program is for anyone who has had cancer, Shaw said the biggest need is among patients just finishing treatment or those who might halt treatment before they're completely done. She expects many of her patients in the new program will have had breast cancer, but the services are open to people who've had any type of cancer.

Clinical psychologist Cynthia Wilcox-Rittgers of Petaluma was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, and she was excited when she heard about the survivorship program. She described it as a way to link her primary care with her oncology care.

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