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Life After Treatment

Image of Suzanne Bosek sitting near a lake
Suzanne Bosek.

Since treatment, Bosek has battled feelings of loss, emptiness and abandonment, along with a persistent fear that cancer could return. "Everyone expected me to put it behind me, go on with my life," she recalls. "I still needed to talk about it, but there was no one to talk to. I was exhausted and frustrated, and couldn't get beyond the emptiness."

Bosek's story is a familiar one to Michelle Riba, M.D., director of the Rogel Cancer Center's PsychOncology Program. "As a growing body of research confirms, the experiences of many cancer survivors mirror those of people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after living through traumas like combat, natural disaster or violent crime," Riba says. Shared symptoms include depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, memory and concentration problems, and feelings of fear, guilt and shame. “Those symptoms don’t end just because cancer treatment does," she adds.

Riba notes that providers and insurers now recognize the extended emotional toll taken by cancer. "We're seeing the diagnostic codes start to expand to cover longer-term depression and anxiety treatment for patients with serious medical conditions like cancer," she says. "That's an encouraging trend."

Weaving a new safety net

"Although I was happy to finish treatment, losing the daily connection with the people who nurtured me and knew me best was a hurt I wasn’t prepared for."

~Suzanne Bosek
Bosek's care team was her safety net during treatment. Since then, she began weaving a new one, finding new sources of validation, support and continued healing. She attended a wellness retreat for breast cancer survivors and developed a regular practice of meditation and guided imagery.

Riba encourages all patients to take steps to improve their emotional health and wellness. "Every patient experience is unique," she says. "Every care plan should be unique, too, personalized to meet the individual's emotional needs before, during and after cancer treatment."

Bosek has also found a way to use her cancer experience to benefit others. In September 2014, she joined the Rogel Cancer Center's Patient and Family Advisory Committee (PFAC), a partnership of patients, family members, faculty and staff that works together to improve the treatment experience. She hopes her story will bring attention to the post-treatment experience and start a dialog about the long-term needs of survivors. Riba agrees. "We're so grateful to patients like Suzanne for sharing their stories. They're helping us improve care for future patients."

Learn more about the Psych Oncology Program, the Rogel Cancer Center's Patient and Family Advisory Board and other helpful resources for cancer patients with PTSD:

Read the Fall, 2015 issue of Thrive.

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Thrive Issue: 
Fall, 2015