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Survive and thrive: Enhancing life after cancer

MLB.com

Recovering from cancer is definitely something to celebrate. Yet moving forward after treatment isn't always a party. Survivors might rejoice at their last treatment, fear the cancer returning and worry about how to rebuild their lives -- all at the same time.

"Many people celebrate their last cancer treatment with mixed emotions. All of those feelings can exist at once," said Sage Bolte, PhD, LCSW, OSW-C, CST, Executive Director of the Life with Cancer program and Associate Director of Psychosocial Programs for the Inova Schar Cancer Institute.

Recovering from cancer is definitely something to celebrate. Yet moving forward after treatment isn't always a party. Survivors might rejoice at their last treatment, fear the cancer returning and worry about how to rebuild their lives -- all at the same time.

"Many people celebrate their last cancer treatment with mixed emotions. All of those feelings can exist at once," said Sage Bolte, PhD, LCSW, OSW-C, CST, Executive Director of the Life with Cancer program and Associate Director of Psychosocial Programs for the Inova Schar Cancer Institute.

June 19-21, the Inova Schar Cancer Institute will sponsor the Beltway Series, when the Nats take on the Orioles at Nationals Park. Whether or not the hometown team comes out on top, the true winners are the cancer patients who will be recognized during the series in honor of National Cancer Survivor Month.

Life doesn't always go back to normal after surviving cancer. But with the right support, survivors can overcome the challenges and flourish.

Physical & Emotional Recovery

Cancer survivors and their loved ones often expect everything will get better once treatment ends. Yet life's challenges don't end with the last scan or treatment.

Post-treatment healing often takes longer than people expect, Bolte said. Physical side effects such as fatigue, poor appetite and the fuzzy-headedness known as "chemo brain" can persist for months or even years.

Emotional recovery can take longer still. During treatment, people often focus on just getting through each day. When treatment ends, they can be flooded with thoughts and emotions they haven't had a chance to deal with. "There's often a kind of awakening as people ask themselves, 'What just happened?'" Bolte said.

Body image issues are also common. "People often say 'I don't feel safe in my own body,' or 'My body isn't my own right now,'" she said. Those concerns can affect survivors as well as their intimate relationships.

Life with Cancer: Free Programs & Support

Now the good news: It's normal to experience bumps on the road to recovery. The rough patches don't go on forever. And you don't have to navigate them alone.

Life with Cancer provides free education, programs and counseling to children and adults with cancer as well as their loved ones. We offer programs to anyone who needs them, no matter where they live or where they are being treated. Those services include survivorship programs to address both the short-term and long-term implications of cancer and cancer treatment, Bolte said.

Examples of programs for life after cancer include:

• Evidenced-based interventions for common problems like insomnia, "chemo brain" and sexual health
• Cancer Recovery: Mindfulness-based stress reduction programs
• Individual counseling and support groups
• Reiki and acupuncture
• Programs to manage fear of cancer recurrence
• Fitness classes designed to help people rebuild strength after treatment
• Educational programs on nutrition, healthy living and stress management
• Healing arts such as art therapy, music therapy and performing arts programs
• Oncology nurse navigators who can provide information about managing specific side effects such as "chemo brain," and help you develop a survivorship care plan

With so many classes, programs and possibilities, "there really is something for everyone," Bolte said.

The Life with Cancer team includes more than 40 staff members, including a psychiatrist/psycho-oncologist, oncology nurse navigators, licensed social workers, licensed professional counselors, licensed art therapists and fitness instructors. In addition to helping anyone touched by cancer, the program has resources and support for family members, including children.

The Inova Schar Cancer Institute is committed to treating the whole person, not just the disease. The unique and innovative programs at Life with Cancer are an important part of that mission.

Wherever you are in your cancer journey, Life with Cancer can help. Call 703-206-5433 (LIFE) for more information about counseling, programs, support groups and other resources.

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