It appears that survivorship has suddenly become newsworthy! Last week, both Fox and NBC featured stories during their nightly broadcasts highlighting a recently released study. Other media – print and radio – featured similar stories. The study has impressive genealogy. It was published in the April 28th edition of the journal Cancer, and was conducted by a group of researchers from University of Michigan, Virginia Commonwealth University, USC and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey.
The basis of the research included a group of 1,026 women under the age of 65 who had been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. They had been surveyed at the time of diagnosis and then again four years later.
The news items used phrases like “important health news,” and “impact on lives and careers,” and “hidden costs of cancer.” Each story unfolded as if this information had heretofore been completely unknown. Only a cure for cancer itself might have garnered more astonishment by its reporters.
According to the study, “Women whose initial treatment included chemotherapy were less likely to be working at follow-up than their peers who did not receive chemotherapy — 38 percent of chemotherapy patients reported no longer working versus 27 percent of the non-chemotherapy group.”
The authors further explained, ”Many clinicians believe that although patients may miss work during treatment, they will ‘bounce back’ in the longer term.The results of the current study suggest otherwise and highlight a possible adverse consequence of adjuvant chemotherapy.”
Bounce back? Really?
This study and its translation by the media should incense all survivors. Why? In the first place, while it is understood that the study dealt with a specific population (early stage breast cancer survivors), the media’s report leads the viewer/reader/listener to believe that only breast cancer survivors have post treatment employment challenges. They further lead us to believe that employment challenges are only related to those who received chemotherapy.
Who among us hasn’t had employment or financial issues related to our diagnosis and treatment? Who hasn’t experienced PTSD-like symptoms? Who doesn’t have self image issues relating to non-chemo treatment (such as radiation burns or surgery scars)? And who doesn’t, some time, some where, wonder if that nasty cancer won’t come back?
And suddenly, every hand in the room is up in the air!
THOSE are survivorship issues that are independent of a cancer type or treatment. Recognizing and validating those challenges are the next step in cancer treatment. And it’s the very reason the Women Survivors Alliance exists.
On the other hand, perhaps the door has opened a crack. Perhaps this is only the beginning of a dialogue between survivors, health care providers, employers and society at large. Perhaps this is a golden opportunity. Let’s use it to tell the media about us and our needs. Tell them we have lots of survivorship challenges to discuss. Ask them for support for the Women Survivors Alliance educational programs.
Sister survivors, we have a voice. It is 7 million women strong. Let’s get the conversation started!