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After cancer treatment, you’ll likely have regular visits with your doctor to keep track of how you’re doing and to make sure that any problems are found early. This is known as follow-up care.
You might not be happy about the idea of still going to doctors’ appointments. You may find that you get anxious, or you may be frustrated by the idea of more tests and exams. Then again, going to follow-up appointments may help you feel in control as you get back into everyday life.
The schedule of visits is different for each person, and tests or procedures during follow-up are tailored to your situation. You may be seen more often in the first few years after your treatment and then less often after that. If you notice any new symptoms, don’t ignore them. Call your healthcare team right away – you don’t have to wait until your next scheduled appointment.
If you have any doubts about your follow-up care, talk to someone on your healthcare team. Don’t avoid or skip a visit or a test. Follow-up appointments are meant to help you stay healthy. And know that as time goes on, checkups should become less frequent.
What happens during checkups?
Your doctor will examine you and ask how you’ve been feeling. Be honest. Talk about any symptoms that are bothering you, even if your doctor doesn’t ask about them. Tell your doctor how you feel mentally as well as physically.
Depending on the type of cancer you had, you may need to have blood tests, x-rays, scans or other medical tests.
Always tell the healthcare team about any medicines, vitamins, herbs or different healing approaches you may be using.
Coping with anxiety before your checkups
Many people say that they feel anxious before their appointments (especially the first one). You may be worried that the cancer has returned even though you feel well. Or you may be worried about a new symptom. You might have an upset stomach or not sleep well the night before. The following tips can help you through the appointment.
- Take someone with you. It can help to bring a relative or friend to appointments to take notes and offer support.
- Plan to do something special for yourself afterward.
- Try to look at the visit as something positive. Follow-up care can give you peace of mind and increase the chances of anything unusual being caught early. It can also be a time to talk about your concerns with your doctor.
Once you’ve had a few checkups and all is OK, your anxiety should begin to lessen.
Your follow-up care plan
You may find it useful to gather together information about the follow-up healthcare you will need in the future. A follow-up care plan is a detailed summary for cancer survivors that may include:
- your schedule for follow-up medical appointments
- your schedule for follow-up tests
- information about the risk of cancer coming back and what signs or symptoms to watch for
- any medicines that you are taking, such as maintenance therapy drugs
- information about long term side effect of treatment
- recommendations for a wellness plan
Treatment given after the first-line therapy (the first or standard treatment) to keep a disease (such as cancer) under control or to prevent it from coming back (recurring). It may be given for a long period of time.
Maintenance therapy may include drugs, vaccines, antibodies or hormones.
I’m extremely grateful to the Canadian Cancer Society for funding my research with an Innovation Grant.
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