When is a cancer patient no longer a cancer patient? Is it after the final round of chemotherapy or radiation? Is it the moment you learn the MRI is all clear? Is it after being in remission for a year? Two? Being a cancer patient is more involved than having cancer. There are fears, hopes, questions, side effects, and short-term and long-term concerns. Treating cancer is treating all of those factors. It is why we are proud to announce a new program called the Survivorship Program for cancer patients at Harrington Cancer Center to navigate the journey after treatment.
The program is specifically designed to help patients live their fullest life after treatment. That includes monitoring for signs of reoccurrence, while also focusing on lessening any side effects of the cancer or treatment. Nurse Practitioner, Marilyn Miller, RN-MSN, FNP-C, leads the program. She believes the Survivorship Program will help transition patients from a cancer diagnosis to wellness. “Patients’ care plans are tailored to their specific diagnosis and treatment,” she explains. “I meet with each patient for an hour during the first appointment to discuss their care plans and answer any questions they may have or make referrals for other services as needed.”
Patients are referred to the program by their oncologist. After meeting with Marilyn, they will know their care plan and treatment summary. This gives patients valuable information to identify possible short-term or long-term side effects, the schedule of follow-up appointments and tests, as well as an understanding of their medications, surgeries and treatments they have had. It is also an opportunity to identify and monitor side effects such as hearing loss, fatigue, early menopause, neuropathy, and cognitive impairment. Each care plan is specific to the patient. Marilyn provides a copy of the treatment summary to the patient’s primary care provider.
“Patients will continue to be followed by their oncologists as usual and will be transitioned to the survivorship clinic for annual follow-up visits after a period of remission,” adds Marilyn.
In the meantime, the Survivorship Program offers an opportunity to meet with patients sooner than they would see their oncologist following treatment. “Patients may wait three months before they see their physician for a follow up appointment and in the meantime they experienced a lot of fear and anxiety,” she says. “Patients are typically here at the center daily if they are receiving radiation treatment and weekly or biweekly if they are receiving chemotherapy. Waiting three months to see their physician seems like an eternity. I will meet with patients 4-6 weeks after they finish treatment and hopefully will lessen their anxiety and fears.”