Survivorship clinics are crucial in cancer treatment.

Survivorship clinics are crucial in cancer treatment.

The Journey of Cancer Survivors: Challenging and Thriving



When Amanda Hanley was 21 years old, battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma, little did she know that she would gain a friend for life. Her chance encounter with another chemotherapy patient in Rhode Island led to a friendship that has endured for over a decade. They even got matching tattoos to symbolize their shared journey of survival. Hanley’s experience, like that of many cancer survivors, is filled with ups and downs, triumphs and struggles. But thanks to advancements in cancer treatments and survivorship programs, more and more people are now able to thrive after a cancer diagnosis.

The Changing Landscape of Cancer Survivorship

In the past, cancer was often viewed as a death sentence, but today, with the effectiveness of modern treatments, it is increasingly being seen as a chronic illness. Some doctors even believe that a time will come when cancer will be considered similar to conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes. The number of years people live after a cancer diagnosis has significantly increased, impacting overall life expectancy. However, the prevalence of cancer among individuals under 50 has also risen, with over 18 million cancer survivors now living in the United States alone.

Each cancer survivor has a unique story, influenced by factors such as age, type and stage of cancer, treatments undergone, and current life circumstances. The diverse needs and challenges faced by this ever-growing population require innovative approaches in survivorship care.

Expanding the Definition of Survivorship

Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH, medical director at the Adult Survivorship Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, highlights the importance of recognizing all cancer patients as survivors from the day of diagnosis. Unlike in the past, when the focus was primarily on the risk of secondary health issues, survivorship care now takes a holistic approach. Sleep, sexual health, psychological support, and nutrition are among the areas receiving greater attention.

Long-term effects from cancer and its treatments can persist throughout a survivor’s life. Fatigue, relationship challenges, financial impacts, mental health issues, sleep disturbances, and fertility problems are just some of the potential hurdles. Recognizing these challenges, survivorship programs have evolved to meet the unique needs of different subsets of survivors, such as young cancer patients.

The Importance of Self-Advocacy

While survivorship programs offer valuable resources and support, it is crucial for cancer survivors to advocate for their ongoing needs. Arif Kamal, MD, chief patient officer at the American Cancer Society and an oncologist at the Duke Cancer Center, emphasizes that survivorship care requires specialized attention and shouldn’t end when chemotherapy finishes. Patients should expect the same level of support and attention even after treatment concludes.

For Amanda Hanley, ongoing care means having a provider skilled in examining her lymph nodes, as her cancer affected the lymphatic system. Unfortunately, her initial concerns were dismissed, emphasizing the need for survivorship clinics where medical professionals are knowledgeable about the long-term effects of cancer and its treatments. These clinics serve as an intermediary between the oncology world and primary care, managing follow-ups and ensuring comprehensive care.

Individualized Support for a Diverse Population

Cancer survivors’ preferences for ongoing support and resources vary greatly. Some may require frequent appointments, whereas others may be content with annual check-ups. The residual effects of cancer can impact survivors differently, making personalized support crucial. Survivorship programs need to be flexible in addressing these varying needs.

Chloe Zimmerman, a medical and doctoral student at Brown University, highlights the importance of connecting survivors with helpful resources. Her research shows that many oncologists fail to recommend post-treatment programs, leaving survivors unaware of the potential challenges they may face. By increasing survivor program availability and education, survivors can be better equipped to navigate the complexities of life after cancer.


Cancer survivorship has evolved into a unique journey, filled with triumphs and challenges. Thanks to advancements in treatments and survivorship programs, more individuals are able to thrive beyond their diagnosis. Recognizing survivors’ diverse needs and empowering them to advocate for comprehensive care is essential. By continuing to innovate and expand support systems, we can ensure that every cancer survivor has the resources they need to live vibrant and fulfilling lives.