Friday, August 25, 2006

"Celebrating" the end of cancer treatment

Today I heard from a fellow health journalist who was having trouble with a story. Here's what she said her editor at a national magazine wanted her to write about:

"The story is about cancer survivors doing something unique/amazing/different/unusual after their treatment, to sort of commemmorate their experience and treatment. For instance, one person joined a group to climb a mountain."

But she said she was having difficulty actually finding such people.

So I wrote back to say that maybe one reason it's tough to find people who fit the story is that the editor's perception of cancer survivors may not match the reality.

As an editorial comment in the March 2006 American Journal of Nursing put it:

"According to the American Cancer Society's Cancer Facts and Figures 2005 ( ), the five-year relative survival rate, for all types of cancer combined, is 64%. But survival often comes at a significant cost-psychosocial, physiologic, spiritual, and existential long-term and late effects are increasingly recognized. Many don't become evident until years after completion of therapy.
"With long-term survival now a reality, many survivors find a "new normal" in their lives after cancer. They return to work, go to school, participate in recreational activities, and form and nurture families, friendships, and other relationships. But survivors of cancer frequently experience long-term changes and obstacles, such as impaired immune response, vital organ dysfunction, hormonal changes resulting in infertility, altered sexual function, cognitive changes, ongoing fatigue, depression, anxiety, family distress, and economic challenges, to mention only a few."

(see the full issue at: )

So I wonder if the image of a survivor "celebrating" the end of treatment is more of a "And They Lived Happily Ever After" fairy tale... and not really fitting for a news article that should reflect what survivors actually have to deal with.

One of the items I've discussed with cancer experts is the burden put upon cancer survivors when they constantly see media images of amazing individuals like Lance Armstrong... and then have to wonder why they can't live up to that standard.

In closing, I offered the writer my wish for good luck with her article, because it's no fun when the facts don't neatly fit an editor's assignment.