This Fourth of July holiday, we’re not only celebrating the red, white and blue that honors the independence and freedom of our country, but also freedom from cancer and the cancer “blues.” Feeling this sense of freedom may mean that you’re cancer-free or that you’re unwilling to let a cancer diagnosis define you.
To be cancer-free means that tests show no evidence of any cancer remaining in the body, a term coined “complete remission.” In some cases, it is possible to complete treatment but still have some evidence of the cancer. This is called “partial remission.”
At Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, many of our patients and their families experience a wide range of emotions during and after cancer treatment. Often, freedom from cancer is both something to celebrate and something that comes with an air of caution. That’s because the joy of being cancer-free may be accompanied by fear that the cancer may return.
Some cancers can and do come back after treatment. This is called “recurrence.” Recurrence can depend on several factors, including the type of cancer, whether it has spread from the original source and how the cancer responded to treatment. While there is no foolproof way to keep cancer from coming back, there are many things you and your healthcare team can do to monitor what’s going on in your body.
You may feel differently than you did before treatment, both physically and mentally. And that’s okay. It’s important to be in tune with your body and your new normal so that you can be mindful of any bodily changes.
It’s also important for cancer patients and survivors to lead a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a healthy diet, being physically active (under the supervision of your healthcare team), and regularly following up with doctors’ appointments and routine medical tests. Cancer survivors can live very long and full lives, so routine medical tests and appointments aren’t limited to following up with your oncologist and getting scans and imaging tests. It’s important to also get regular physical exams and monitor other markers for diseases such as cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Routine follow-up tests may also identify the recurrence of cancer even before symptoms develop. Since cancer can come back in the same part of the body or in another part of the body, signs and symptoms may differ from those involved with your original diagnosis. For instance, an increase in fatigue, the development of new pain or worsening of existing pain, weight loss, and other changes in the way you feel should be discussed with your physician.
This Independence Day, as you enjoy time with your family, watching fireworks, and celebrating other traditions, take a moment to think about your own independence from cancer. Have a wonderful holiday!
A version of this article originally appeared on “What’s New In GU?,” a blog from the NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Genitourinary (GU) Oncology Program.