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After lung cancer treatment ends, you will face a whole new world. Whether you are creating a survivorship plan or an end-of-life plan, nothing will be as it was before diagnosis. You will confront new fears, new opportunities to help others, and new social and physical situations.

Let us help you refocus your hope on where you are today and boldly face this new phase.

More resources for Lung Cancer What’s Next from Patient Empowerment Network.

Cancer Survivors: Managing Emotions After Cancer Treatment

Since the 1980s, doctors have tried to describe the stages cancer survivors normally go through. Most divide them into a version of the three stages described below:

Acute Survival (Living With Cancer) – Covers cancer diagnosis and any subsequent treatment. During this time, patients will undergo treatment and may be invited to participate in a clinical trial to study new cancer treatments. Sometimes services are offered to patients and their caregivers to address emotional, psychological and financial problems.

Prolonged survival (transient cancer): Post-treatment period during which the risk of recurrence is relatively high. Many patients are relieved that treatment has ended, but are concerned that they will not visit the oncologist regularly. During this stage, patients often visit the oncologist two to four times a year, depending on their circumstances.

Permanent survival (living after cancer): survival after treatment and long-term. Although two out of three survivors declare that their lives have returned to normal, a third affirms that they continue to have physical, psychosocial or economic problems. During this stage, most survivors are cared for again by their GP. Ideally, they have developed a long-term follow-up plan with the oncologist for their regular doctor to implement.

Social and Emotional Repercussions of Cancer

In addition to the physical effects of cancer, survivors experience psychological, emotional, and spiritual consequences. Many of them affect quality of life and can manifest many years after treatment. Here are some of the most common problems cancer survivors face:

Fear of Recurrence

Many survivors live in fear that the cancer will return at some point. In some cases, a major event, such as the anniversary of the diagnosis or the end of treatment with the oncologist, can trigger these feelings. Fear can be good if it encourages you to discuss your health changes with your doctor, but it can also cause unnecessary worry. Knowing your own body will help you distinguish between normal changes and more serious symptoms.


Grief is the natural result of loss. In cancer, losses refer to health, sexual desire, fertility, and physical independence. To overcome your pain, it is important to experience all of these feelings. Support groups and psychological assistance can help you deal with these problems.


It is estimated that 70% of cancer survivors experience depression at some point. Depression can be difficult to diagnose in cancer survivors, since the symptoms are very similar to the side effects of cancer treatment, such as weight loss, tiredness, insomnia, and inability to concentrate. In a 10-year follow-up study, symptoms of depression have been found to be associated with shorter survival, so seeking treatment for depression is essential.

Body Image and Self-esteem

Cancer survivors who have suffered amputations, disfigurements, and loss of organs such as the colon or bladder often have to overcome their problems to relate to themselves and to others. A negative body image and low self-esteem can affect the survivor’s ability to maintain relationships with their partner, which will have important consequences on their quality of life. Good communication is essential to maintain or regain intimacy after cancer. Consult a doctor if problems persist.


Many survivors feel that life takes on new meaning after cancer and renew their commitment to certain spiritual practices or organized religion. Research indicates that spirituality improves quality of life through a strong social support network.

Survivor’s Fault

Some people feel guilty about surviving cancer when others don’t. You may be wondering “Why me?” Or reevaluate your goals and ambitions in life. If you have a prolonged feeling of guilt, a psychotherapist, a member of the clergy, or a support group can help you express your feelings.


Possibly the biggest challenge cancer survivors face is how others react to their disease. Friends, coworkers, and family members may feel uncomfortable when discussing the diagnosis of cancer. They can keep silent, avoid you, or pretend that nothing has happened. Others may use humor to try to distract you and not think about your situation, instead of offering to talk about your problems. Cancer can be a long-lasting disease, so it is essential to overcome communication barriers.

Social and Work Life

Social and professional reintegration can be accompanied by many fears: concern about being exposed to a higher risk of infection, lack of enough energy to reach the end of the workday and anxiety about not being able to think clearly due to the so-called “neurological impairment by chemotherapy “or memory loss. In overcoming a life and death situation, many cancer survivors feel alienated from people who have not had the same experience and turn to other survivors for support and friendship.

You may be reluctant to reveal to your bosses and colleagues that you are receiving cancer treatment for fear of being treated differently or even losing your job and health insurance. This creates an atmosphere of uncertainty that contributes to emotional stress. Again, honest communication with your colleagues will help you overcome these feelings.

About the author: Diane H. Wong is copywriter at write essay for me service. Besides, she is a professional nutritionist. So she is going to start writing her own blog. It can help her share her knowledge with others.

10 Ways of Thriving After Cancer

First and foremost, “surviving” cancer is amazing. After all, cancer is one of the deadliest diseases in the world! So, if you are a survivor, you are indeed worthy of praise. 

There are many types of cancers out there. One thing that they all have in common is that they are a result of uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells anywhere in a body. Early detection of cancerous growth results in a good prognosis as there is nearly no definitive cure for any form of cancer at its late stages.

Again, whether yours was at its late-stage or not and you survived, you are a winner! At this point, you should hold no reserve about cancer resurfacing and instead THRIVE. 

Now that you have survived cancer, the next step is reintegration back into society and doing the best you can to thrive while doing so. 

1. Battle your fear & anxiety head-on 

Long after getting cleared of cancer, survivors have to fight an emotional battle of fear and anxiety. No matter what the medical reports say about their health status, there is the seemingly never-ending fear of the cancer returning. 

This emotional turmoil is insurmountable and almost never avoidable unless you normally just have a strong will. You must quench this fear so that you can thrive.  A chat with your doctor is vital. Disclose whatever concerns you have about your health. Your doctor may even schedule frequent testing and care plans to make you feel better. 

2. Be devoted to your physical therapy sessions 

Cancer is usually for the long term. So, when the health providers eventually manage to get rid of all the cancerous growths, you may be left with a physical limitation like immobility. Such a physical limitation may make life less enjoyable, thus your doctor’s statutory recommendation for physiotherapy.

 Be dedicated to treatment sessions and work closely with the physical therapist as well as your loved ones. Don’t be afraid to ask for continued support as you heal.

3. Try a new hobby 

Don’t rush to get back to your old self before cancer. Try to enjoy the process more by finding new sports or leisure activities that fill your time. 

So, instead of getting mopey and worrying over cancer resurfacing, try knitting for a change, go golfing, try swimming! There is nothing too small or too big to try, and the main goal is to get you taken by any activity other than sitting down and getting paranoid. 

4. Consider returning to work

A defining part of getting reintegrated back into society after cancer is a career. If you were working before cancer, going back to work can help redefine your life. 

If you weren’t, try finding a new skill or going job-seeking. This gives you a sense of normalcy, but even better, it occupies your time! Remember, one of the most important ways to thrive after a battle with cancer is to not dwell on the past and simply enjoy the moment. 

5. Find intimacy with your loved ones 

There is nothing better than speaking to people who genuinely love you. Such emotional talks are sure to renew your confidence and help you build strong emotional support. If you are dating or married, it’ll help a great deal to bear your thoughts before your partner. Keeping it all inside won’t help and may even make you distant from them. 

6. If possible, start exercising

Numerous benefits accompany exercise. These range between boosting your physical endurance to giving your mental health a much-needed boost. 

Aside from that, nothing beats that sense of accomplishment that comes with completing an exercise session every day. Before starting an exercise regime, tell your doctor; and you may have him refer you to a physical therapist with knowledge of care for cancer survivors like you. 

If you are strong enough to exercise independently, start small with home workouts and build your way up to going for a walk at the park and then the gym. 

7. Make A List of Your Fears

This is on emotional terrain. Write down your deepest fears about life after cancer or what you think may prevent you from enjoying this new phase. This may include fear of the cancer returning, fears about your health overall, concerns of satisfying your partner in bed like you once did, fears of losing your job or doing poorly at it, and many more others. 

No matter how many they are, penning these fears down on paper can help you tackle them. After writing, you may even discover that some of these are so insignificant and shouldn’t be any trouble. Either way, you are tackling these problems head-on. 

8. Let go of the past 

This is an essential task if you want to thrive following a battle with cancer. Letting go of the past may be harder for people who have been fighting bouts of cancer over a significant number of years, but there is indeed nothing better than finding a new you. 

Cancer puts a dent in your mental health, so it may pose a challenge to let go of your history. If this is you, speaking to a counselor or even your doctor will be beneficial. 

9. Accept that there are going to be bad days 

It is a part of living to have good and bad days. As a cancer survivor, you can’t escape this, and you may even be more vulnerable, having battled one of the world’s deadliest diseases. As you strive to get back to normalcy, you have to realize that not every day will be good and that the process may be a lot harder than you expect. 

An optimistic attitude and never giving up are crucial to overcoming the dismay or depression that may set in when you’re not successful at something you try to do. You can also create a backup plan for such days e.g., take a walk with your partner, go to the cinema, etc. 

10. Share your experience with support groups 

There is nothing like working closely with people who have had similar experiences with you. Whether they are still battling cancer or not, speaking to others about your own experience surviving the disease will give them a ray of hope. It will equally do you a lot of good. 

Resource links:,,

What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Research

What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

As a lung cancer patient, why should you stay informed about research? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee reviews what patients need to know.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

See More From the The Pro-Active Lung Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

Trustworthy Resources to Help You Learn More About Lung Cancer

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment  Options

Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? Why You Should Seek A Second Opinion

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Dr. Wakelee:

So, there’s so much happening in lung cancer research now, it is hard to really narrow it down to one thing to be specifically excited about. Where we have made so much progress in particular is with target treatments, and also with immune therapy. So, when we think about the targeted treatments, it’s only been about 15 years since we first learned about drugs that would specifically target the EGFR gene mutations.

And when we found a tumor with an EGFR gene mutation, we then had a medication we could give that would work better than chemo. And now we have five EGFR drugs available in the US. And then we found out about this ALK gene mutation that happen in some tumors. Now we have five drugs that work there. And the with ROS1, that was found, and now we’ve got four drugs that work there that are approved.

And it seems that we keep learning about more and more mutations, so those are mutations called NTRK and BRAF. And with all of those, we now have drug treatments, so it’s been very, very rapid discovery of specific gene mutations and drugs that work for that. And I think we’re continuing to see new targets being identified and new drugs being found.

And also, when those drugs stop working, better understanding why and what we can do to help them work longer, or what we can give next. So, that’s a very active area of research that’s exciting. And then we have the immune therapy. So, the ones that are available so far are drugs that block either PD-1 or PD-L1, and that’s one of the really important stop signals for the immune system.

And tumors can use that stop signal to block an immune reaction to a tumor. But if you block that stop signal then the immune system can attack the cancer. So, that’s really important, these PD-1, PD-L1 drugs.

We also know about another stop signal called CTLA-4, and there’re drugs that block that as well. And now, where there’s a ton of research is in trying to work with other parts of the immune system, other either pro-immune or anti-immune signals, and changing those in a way where we can improve the ability of the immune system to find the cancer cells and attack the cancer cells.

So, there are many, many studies being done with drugs, and especially in combinations, trying to get that response against the cancer from the immune system to be even stronger. And that’s, I think, where we’re making the most exciting headway now.

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Are there new lung cancer treatment options that you should know about? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee reviews the latest research. Looking for more information? Download the Find Your Voice Resource Guide here.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

See More From the The Pro-Active Lung Cancer Patient Toolkit

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Lung Cancer Treatment Decisions: Which Path is Best for You?

What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Research

Critical Questions to Ask Your Lung Cancer Doctor


Dr. Wakelee:

So, the treatment of lung cancer has been changing very, very quickly. We’ve had a lot of new options that have become available in the last few years, and there’re new ones coming along all the time. When I started treating lung cancer, which was a number of years ago, we were able to treat and help people.

But our only real option when the cancer was metastatic was chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is still an important part of treatment for many people, but now we have other options. So, starting about 15 years ago, people were able to identify that some tumors had specific genetic changes. We also call these molecular changes, or gene mutations, or just mutations in the tumor. They have a lot of different names.

But when we do find them, these are things like EGFR or ALK or ROS or BRAF or MET, we actually have different treatment options that only work for tumors that have those specific genetic changes, and don’t work in tumors that don’t have those. So, when we talk about genetic changes a lot of people think, “Oh, that’s something that I’ve inherited.”

These are not things that are inherited. This is not something that’s in the whole person. It’s just in the tumor. So, it’s a mutation that happened in the DNA of the cell, and that cell then became the cancer. And depending on what that mutation or mutations are, we still can have chemotherapy, and that can work.

But for specific ones, and specifically EGFR, ALK, ROS, BRAF, we know that there are pill drugs and oral medication that actually is gonna be better than chemo, at least for a period of time, if a cancer has that specific mutation.

So, it’s really, really important to figure that out. It’s not something a doctor can sort out just by looking at the patient or looking at the tumor under the microscope. We have to do special testing, looking at the tumor DNA.

And we now have ways of looking for those mutations, not just in the tumor tissue, but also sometimes with blood. So, we can draw a blood test and look for those as well when there’s a tumor that’s shedding the DNA. So, it’s really important to think about that. And we now have a whole host of medications that we can offer people when we the find these mutations that we didn’t used to have, even a few years ago.

And, actually, if you think back over the last five years, we’ve had new drugs approved, a few of them every year, for these specific gene mutation tumors, so that’s really, really exciting. The other thing that’s changed dramatically just in the last five years is what we call immune therapy.

So, when we think about the different types of treatment, chemotherapy works by poisoning DNA. And in order to make a new cell, you have to make new DNA. Tumors are doing that more than a lot of normal tissue, and so we’re able to give chemotherapy and specifically hurt tumors and not the rest of the person very much.

With the targeted treatments where we find a gene target and where there’s a gene mutation in a tumor, those are medications that specifically hit that altered gene, that altered protein made by the gene. And then they work really, really well. What immune therapy does is it actually changes the way your body’s own immune system interacts with the tumor. So, we have a lot of types of immune cells, but the ones that are involved in really fighting the cancer directly are called T cells.

And so, normally, a T cell would recognize something that’s foreign like an abnormal-looking cell that’s a cancer, and attack it. But we have a lot of different systems in our body that stop the T cells from recognizing normal tissue and attacking it.

And one of the best systems for that is something called PD-1 and PD-L1. And so, if you have a T cell and it sees a PD-L1 signal on tissue, it assumes that that tissue was normal tissue and it doesn’t attack. But if you can hide that PD-L1 signal, then if it’s a T cell, a part of the immune system comes in and doesn’t see the PD-L1, it doesn’t get the stop signal. It’s not told to not attack. So, it could attack the tumor better.

And I’m not describing it well because it’s so complicated. There are a lot of different factors that help a T cell know whether to attack or not to attack. But, again, one of these key stop signals is the PD-1, PD-L1 interaction. And so, scientists were able to develop medications that can block PD-1 or PD-L1. And when those medications are in the body, if a tumor is using that particular stop signal as a way to hide from the immune system, when you give the medication that blocks it then the tumor is no longer hiding.

And then the immune system, those T cells, can come in and attack. So, these immune treatments, and there are now a lot, and so these are drugs, like pembrolizumab, also called Keytruda; nivolumab, which also called Opdivo; durvalumab, which is called IMFINZI. And there are many, many others. Those medications have now been shown to really, really help to fight cancer, particularly when the tumor is using that PD-L1 signal. But they can also be combined with chemotherapy and then they work even if there’s not a lot of PD-L1 in the tumor. So, again, it’s a very complex story.

But where we’ve seen dramatic improvements in treatment is we have targeted treatments when the genes are – there are specific genes mutating in tumors. We have immune therapy, which worked for a lot of other people. And sometimes when there’s also gene mutation, but not always, we still have chemotherapy. And then there’s ongoing research with a lot of different medications. Many of them are focusing on better ways to get the immune system to work against cancers beyond what we can already do.

Being Empowered: The Benefits of Learning About Your Lung Cancer

The Benefits of Learning About Your Lung Cancer from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

As a lung cancer patient, why should you stay informed about research? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee provides her advice. Find your voice with the Pro-Active Patient Toolkit Resource Guide, available here.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

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Dr. Wakelee:

So, as a patient living with lung cancer, you have many options today that you wouldn’t have had 5, 10, 15 years ago, which is wonderful.

Because things are changing so quickly, it’s very hard for physicians and other care providers to keep up with all of the latest information. It’s especially hard if you are seeing an oncologist who not only has to keep up with everything that’s happening in lung cancer, but also everything that’s happening in breast cancer, and colon cancer, and melanoma, and so many other diseases.

And so, while everybody does their best to know the latest and greatest in research, and all of the new drug approvals, sometime that’s just possible. So, as a patient, you wanna make sure that you, focused on your particular disease, are up-to-date on what you can possibly know about the best ways to treat your disease, so you can talk to your physician and make sure that he or she also knows about those, and is using that latest information to help you get the best possible care.

There’s also a lot of ongoing clinical trials. And being able to ask about those and know what may or may not make sense for you, is also a reasonable thing to be able to talk with your doctor about.

And sometimes that involves continuing your care with your doctor, but also getting another opinion, particularly at a research center where they might have access to more trials, new drugs, some of which might be better than what’s available, and some of which might not be. But without talking to people about that, you’re not gonna be able to know that.

And that’s why it’s really important to do what you can or your family can do to be educated and know what is going on in the field of lung cancer, so you can get the best possible care.

Fertility Preservation in People with Cancer

This podcast was originally published by Cornell Weill Cancer Cast, on March 22, 2019, here.

The Empowered Lung Cancer Thriver and Expert Chat

The Empowered Lung Cancer Thriver and Expert Chat from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.


Laura Levaas:

Hello, and welcome to this Patient Empowerment Network program, the empowered cancer survivor and expert chats. I’m your host, Laura Levaas, the lung cancer community manager for Patient Power, and a two-year survivor and thriver of lung cancer. This program is produced by Patient Power. We thank Celgene Corporation, Novartis, and Pfizer for their financial contributions to this program. They don’t have editorial control, but we do really appreciate them helping us make this program happen.

So, our guest today is Dr. Ross Camidge, the Director of Thoracic Oncology at the University of Colorado here in Denver. He’s also one of the top doctors in the U.S. for the very type of lung cancer that I have. It’s a rare mutation called ALK positive. And hopefully he can talk about that a little bit more later.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

We can talk about that until the cows come home.

Laura Levaas:

That’s good. Well, I’m excited to be interviewing somebody who is in the same town as me. So, you’re right down the road.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah, and we’re doing it virtually. Isn’t that crazy?

Laura Levaas:

It is crazy. So, we’re both in Denver, but we’re both online. So, I hope you’re having a good day. And thank you for joining us. So, can you estimate how many lung cancer patients you’ve worked with during your career?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

More than 1,000, I would have thought. So, I tend to see about 30 people a week, of whom about two or three of them are new each week. And then you can do the math. And then I’ve been here…it’ll be 15 years in October. So, someone really clever with a calculator can do that calculation, but it’s several thousand.

Laura Levaas:

That’s a lot.

Dr. Ross Camidge:


Laura Levaas:

Is there a case that stands out to you in your career? Maybe somebody who beat the odds of their prognosis, or somebody that had a very interesting or unusual case?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, you know, it’s funny. I mean, there are lots of people who I’ve looked after who’ve inspired me in different ways. But the ones that I keep thinking about the young patients who were diagnosed before we knew about all these molecular sub-types of lung cancer.

And I remember one young guy. He was 21 years old. He was really into skateboarding and art. And his parents were busy getting a divorce at the time. And it was a total disaster to have a diagnosis of lung cancer, and he’s stuck in the middle. And his disease was incredibly aggressive, and he didn’t survive very long. And somewhere in me, it’s like, well, he must have had something. He must have had ALK; he must have had ROS1.

And these things weren’t even described at the time. And part of life is about timing. So, nobody wants to have lung cancer. But it’s a much better time to have lung cancer now than it was last year, and certainly last decade.

Laura Levaas:

Right. So, there is hope for people who are diagnosed now?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, I mean, I think that the best example of that is, people who now have Stage 4 lung cancer, the questions they have to ask are, “Shall I go for promotion in my job? Shall I go on this fun vacation? Am I gonna marry this person?” The same things that we all struggle with before a diagnosis of lung cancer. Because there used to come a time when you got a diagnosis of lung cancer, and the same conversation at least that the doctor was concerned was, “You’re about to drop down dead.” We phrased it differently, but you get the drift.

And now, those are completely separated by an unspecified amount of time, in the same way that we’re born and we die at some point in the future, and we don’t quite know when that’s gonna be. And so, we don’t have the two things – “Hi! Mrs. Jones! You’ve got a bouncing boy and they’re about to drop down dead.” Now, they’re separated by life. And we are gradually increasing the distance between those two events.

Laura Levaas:

I think that’s amazing. And this is a good segue, actually, for me to tell a little bit about my story. I don’t wanna get too far into the weeds. But my story, I think it was unique because I had a threemonth prognosis, basically, by the time they got a hold of me. I’d been misdiagnosed for about a year, which is pretty common, I think, with –

Dr. Ross Camidge:


Laura Levaas:

– lung cancer. You know, allergy symptoms, some migraine symptoms. And mine was actually caught, oddly enough, during a breast cancer screening. Because my mother is a breast cancer survivor, and she was diagnosed very young. So, my doctors have always been really proactive about that. But my original prognosis was three months. And that’s before they knew that I was ALK positive. So –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

So, who told you that you had three months?

Laura Levaas:

It was –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

That’s what drives me crazy, some well-meaning person in the emergency room.

Laura Levaas:

Yes. And I think it’s because when they discovered what I had, I had 50 brain mets and 50 spine mets, and my brain was swelling. And they were telling my family, “We’ve gotta get her into whole-brain radiation right away.”

We found out about two weeks later that I was ALK positive. So, they stopped the radiation, and I went right into taking Alectinib, which is a newer drug. And it was approved by the FDA I think about three months after I started taking it as first line for ALK.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

It’s all about timing.

Laura Levaas:

And then it stopped – yeah. Yeah. So, it’s kind of – I feel a bit like a champion. Because they said, “Well, you have three months.” And that can be a real bummer. And it’s a real shock to friends and family and my boyfriend at the time, who’s no longer. But here I am, 26 months later. And I feel great. And nobody ever thinks that I’m sick. They’re always shocked to find out that I have lung cancer. So –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

I think you’ve done great. And you’re still doing great.

Laura Levaas:

Thank you. And let me explain to our audience how I met you. One of the things that helped me have a positive outlook on being diagnosed with lung cancer is, No. 1, because I have this mutation, there was a targeted therapy available to me. And so, within six months, all of the cancer ground to a halt.

And I was basically able to resume most of my normal activities. I could drive again. I could go out to eat. I could do some normal things. But a friend of mine told me that there was a Facebook group for my specific type of cancer. And it was so valuable, and it helped me sort of like find my people. I refer to them affectionately as mutants because we’re all mutants together. But we share information. And they told me about your second opinion program, which I hope is okay to talk about on –

Dr. Ross Camidge:


Laura Levaas:

– this program. But that’s how I found out about you. And you’re now my oncologist. And I’m in a Phase 2 clinical trial for a drug that’s new to me. And I’m very excited about that.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

You haven’t started it yet, have you?

Laura Levaas:

I have. I started it last week.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Oh, you started last week, didn’t you?

Laura Levaas:

I did. I did. The first couple days, I felt weird. But now, I feel great. So, for those –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah, that’s fantastic.

Laura Levaas:

– that are watching, just know I do think having a positive attitude will help you through those really tough times when you’re feeling low. Reach out to your sub-group. Reach out to the people who have what you have. Because they’ve been walking that path, and they can help you.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

I mean, I think that one of the things is – I mean, it’s the same like when doctors talk to doctors. You can do the shorthand. You don’t have to explain what you’ve got and what it means. You don’t have to explain to me that you weren’t a smoker. You can just sort of jump in and say, look, this is the stuff that’s happening with me. And they understand.

Laura Levaas:

Absolutely. Absolutely. So, I am going to ask you a couple of quick questions. And then we got a lot of audience questions for you. So, I hope you’re ready.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yep. Bring it on.

Laura Levaas:

Lots of really good questions. So, before we transition into those, I wanted to ask whether you have noticed a mindset shift? You mentioned right at the beginning that this is the best time to be diagnosed with lung cancer because there are options. But are you noticing a mind shift in your patients?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah, I mean, I think there is. I mean, I think lung cancer has gone from being – or let me rephrase that. Certain sub-groups of lung cancer has gone from being this kind of embarrassing thing, that you were sort of hidden in a closet, and nobody knew a lung cancer survivor because they didn’t exist – to now, I can show a room full of people and you can’t pick out who’s the lung cancer patient and who’s their significant other in the picture because everybody looks the same. And that, to me, is huge success.

So, I mean, one of the things we did last year – and I may have shown you the picture that we have up in the clinic – is we actually had a survivors’ celebration.

Laura Levaas:


Dr. Ross Camidge:

And to get your invite, you had to be at least five years out from your diagnosis. And we invited 400 people. Now, to be honest, we messed up the timing, and we sent the invites out about two weeks late. But we still had about 100 people turn up –

Laura Levaas:

That’s great.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

– which was pretty awesome. And we took a big picture. And it’s framed and sitting up in the clinic, for the simple reason that when you’re first diagnosed, you know these people exist, but you don’t believe they’re real. And I wanted to be able to come outside and say, “See that guy there? Well, he’s 10 years out. And look, he still looks fine, and he’s leading a normal life.”

So, I don’t mean everybody’s gonna do that. But it’s gone from being this fantasy – I might win the lottery – to, well, I might graduate from high school. I mean, it becomes a much more realizable dream.

Laura Levaas:

Right. Well, what questions do you think patients should be asking when they’re first diagnosed? They go to the doctor. They’re like, “You have lung cancer.” What should a patient ask?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, some of the basics are, what’s the stage of the cancer? How far has it spread around the body? So, usually, at least in the USA, people are getting a PET scan and an MRI of their brain.That’s the kind of standard bread and butter. I mean, 10 year ago, probably the most common thing I would encounter in the second opinion is somebody who wouldn’t have scanned the brain. They were waiting until someone had symptoms before they scanned it, which was like, well, you’ve lost a few neurons by then.

Now, probably the big thing is, have they done molecular testing? And I think the education has been, that’s not a uniform box. If you find something, that’s great. But if somebody says, “Well, you don’t have a mutation,” the next question is, “Well, what have you looked for?” Because if you haven’t looked for A, B, and C, you don’t know that that’s not there. So, the things that we test for have become more expansive.

And then the last one – and it’s hard not to say this without sounding like a complete jerk, but I’m going to do it anyway – is that the disease has become super complex and super specialized. And you don’t have to have all of your treatment with a thoracic specialist, but you should have a relatively early appointment with a thoracic specialist to just check that you’re on the right path.

Laura Levaas:

Good. That’s –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Those are the three things.

Laura Levaas:

Okay. Those are really, really good things to ask. I wanted to ask also how long you’ve been involved in lung cancer clinical trials in the development of new medicines?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, I’ve been here, as I said, nearly 15 years. I trained before that amongst other places in Edinburg, in Scotland, which is where I did most of my training. And that’s where I first encountered lung cancer patients. And it was actually probably the very first – so, you were taken round to different centers in your training. And I landed in lung cancer. And I really liked the patients. And I kind of felt that they were … they were very undemanding. Often, many of them had smoked, and they were kind of feeling a little embarrassed. And so, they made you want to step towards them because they were kind of stepping away from you. And I also felt that it was kind of poised for a breakthrough. So, that was kind of how I got involved.

And then since I’ve been here, when I first arrived in Colorado, it was pretty well known for lung cancer. But it had not a huge clinical program. I think when I arrived, they put nine patients a year on clinical trials. And within a few years, we were putting more than 100 on. So, I really helped to build that. And then with my colleagues here, we’ve been able to build the program.

Laura Levaas:

What’s the best advice you can give someone who is newly diagnosed with cancer?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, the first thing is, for those of you who’ve seen The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the first thing is, don’t panic.

Laura Levaas:

That’s good advice. That’s good advice.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

The thing is, what you do is, you get diagnosed. And there’s a period of time where the room – you just can’t hear anything, and you feel distant from it. And what you’ve gotta do is, you – absolutely, you can wallow in self-pity for a period of time. And then you have to get up and move on. And that’s when you say, okay, this is a problem like anything else in life. And I will figure out the best of all possible solutions.

Laura Levaas:

Absolutely. Conversely, Terry wanted to know, what is the biggest mistake patients make in decisionmaking about treatment?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, listening to people who say you only have three months to live.

Laura Levaas:

Yeah. That’s not good.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah. I don’t know what – I think perhaps believing that everything you see about cancer on the TV – which is everyone who’s bald and throwing up – must automatically apply to you. Or that that person down the street who died from a brain tumor automatically applies to you. I mean, so, cancer isn’t cancer. There are different diseases. And until you can find out, like you said, your peer group, you don’t know what the truth will be for you. And then you’re still gonna make your own rules up anyway.

Laura Levaas:

That’s true. That’s true. And I was thinking the other day, my needs when I was first diagnosed are very different than what they are now a few years later. Because in the beginning, I didn’t have coping skills. And I just didn’t know what to do. But you do develop them over time. And I remember a woman telling me, “Oh, you’ll figure it out.” And that made me really mad. But I see the wisdom –

Dr. Ross Camidge:


Laura Levaas:

Yeah. I see the wisdom in that now because you do figure it out over time.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

But how did you figure it out? How did you develop those coping skills? … Am I allowed to ask you questions?

Laura Levaas:

Oh, absolutely! Yeah, I think it was helpful, oddly enough, that I wasn’t allowed to drive and that I was in such a bad state. Because it allowed me to sort of withdraw from society for a while, withdraw from my work, withdraw from relationship drama. Because I ultimately ended up breaking up with my partner because he wasn’t capable of handling what I was going through, and he wasn’t supportive. So, all of the things that were familiar to me, like my job, my apartment, I retreated from all of that. And at the time, it sucked. But now, I’m like, that allowed me to have a perspective that was removed from everything. And I just –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

How old was your son at the time when you were diagnosed?

Laura Levaas:


Dr. Ross Camidge:

So, I mean, there’s an element of where you can withdraw from society, but you’ve got a 4-year-old.

Laura Levaas:

That’s right.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

So, how do you deal with that?

Laura Levaas:

Yeah. Well, I ended up moving in with my sister. Because at that time, I couldn’t drive, and I couldn’t take care of myself. So, I did rely really heavily on her. And their daughter is the same age as my son. So, they were going to school together. I relied very heavily on them, and I’m so thankful for that because that allowed me to just rest and heal. Because in the beginning – not to get too far in the weeds – but I couldn’t watch TV. I couldn’t be on my phone. I couldn’t be on the computer. Just no attention span whatsoever because of whole brain, I think. So, retreating from everything actually was good for me. And I’m also kind of a loner. So, I liked it, being alone too, oddly enough.

Good question.

I have another question from Christine C. She says, how long do you think it will take until lung cancer will be a chronically managed disease?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, I think for some people, it already is. So, I now have 10-year Stage 4 survivors who are still alive and still thriving, to use your word. So, for those people, it’s a reality. And I don’t know – as I said, people will make their own rules – I don’t know how long they will go. I mean, I honestly do not know how long I can control their disease. You just have to stay alive and in the game and hope that breakthroughs will happen.

Now, then the challenge is, okay, “Well, what about me? I don’t have ALK. I don’t have – whatever.” And you go, okay, well, so, everyone – we have to try and replicate the success of the ALK positive population with all of the other sub-types of lung cancer or the ones that don’t even have a label yet. And so, there’s plenty of work to do.

Laura Levaas:

Definitely. Leslie wants to know, what do you see in the near future for treatment of lung cancer? And she lists a couple of things like a fourth generation TKI, immunotherapy – a couple of things that I don’t even know what they are, SHP2, Protex, anything else?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah. I don’t know what Protex is, but I know what SHP2 is. So, first of all, so, the concept of the fourth generation TKI, I mean, I assume that’s because we have a third generation TKI and therefore, the next one must be called the fourth generation. So, I don’t know that the generations of TKI is going to be the immediate solution.

If I had to say what I think the future is gonna hold, there’s a couple of things. So, one is I think we can – and we’ll use ALK as an example. But really, ALK is this model system that everybody else with lung cancer might like to replicate. So, we’re really good at developing drugs that are great at suppressing one particular pathway that is driving some people’s cancer.

But the cancer still grows eventually. Usually now, with some of the drugs – like the one you’re on and the third-generation drug – is that they’re not growing because they’re turning back on the same pathway. What they’re doing is, they’re growing through some other pathway coming up. So, finding these other pathways, these so-called second drivers, is going to lead to rational combinations of drugs. That’s one way.

The other thing which is kind of the elephant in the room is, well we have these drugs. You have these fantastic responses on the scans. But if you stop the drug, the cancer starts to grow. And if you go back on the drug a week later, it’ll shrink down. So, you clearly haven’t killed all of the cells which are even sensitive to that drug. So, until we can address why we can’t get 100 percent cell kill – that’s a technical term – we’re never gonna deal with the elephant in the room, which is, why can’t we actually cure people?

And that’s a very different situation from, why does the cancer grow three years later? The question is, why, when you walk through the door and you have a great response on the scan, if you had a magic microscope, why is there still one in 1,000 cells left? And that to me is actually the horizon we need to look for.

Laura Levaas:

Okay. Okay. That’s a great answer. A few more questions. Will R. wants to know about a lung cancer vaccine.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, so, you could view that in a couple ways. So, if you think about how we use vaccines, we use them when we don’t have a disease to prevent us from getting that disease. We don’t really use a vaccine when we’ve already got the disease. So, if you’ve got chicken pox, I don’t vaccinate you for chicken pox. I treat the chicken pox. And so, lots of people are trying to develop vaccines, but they’re giving them in the wrong way. They’re giving them to somebody with an established lung cancer, and then they’re surprised that it doesn’t work. But that’s not what vaccines do.

The question is, could we find a way of saying, well, these are the people who are at highest risk for lung cancer, and give them something before they have lung cancer to reduce their risk? And the answer is, maybe. But if you can imagine, that’s a really difficult study to do. It would take years and years and years.

I’ve just come back from something called the World Conference on Lung Cancer, which was in Barcelona – tough life – but the biggest breakthrough there wasn’t about treatment. It was about a study that was actually done in Scotland about screening people. So, we’re pretty familiar with, if you smoke this much, you meet a certain criteria, and you go get a CT scan. But that’s no good if you’re not a smoker. You don’t meet those criteria.

So, they still have to look at a blood test. And they can show that that particular blood test, it wasn’t definitive. It wasn’t, you’re gonna get cancer or not. But it bumped up your risk if you are positive on the blood test to then make that screening even more effective.

Laura Levaas:

That’s awesome.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

And they had some evidence – loose evidence – that it might even work in never smokers. And I think that’s what will come in the future too. And then what if you identify this high-risk group? I’m getting all excited now – all that higher-risk group? Maybe then say, okay, well, why are they at higher risk? Is that the group we give a vaccine to?

Laura Levaas:

Right. And then how would you identify a non-smoker, high-risk group? Can you?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah, well, so, it’s a work in progress. So, one of the things that they’re starting to do is find some of the mutations which are driving people’s cancer in the blood. Okay? So, the problem is that the sensitivity of the test isn’t very good. So, you can find it when somebody has lots of cancer in their body. But to get the screening, you want to find it when there’s one little ditzel in your lung. So, you have to really turn up the sensitivity.

And I think that’s where the field is kinda going. So, they would know that if they found ALK in your blood, if they made a super sensitive test, that that would be wrong. Shouldn’t be there. And therefore, they would say, you should go get a CT scan. And so, the sensible thing would be, develop a cocktail of tests for every one of the things that drive lung cancer and say, if we find it, that’s bad news. Go get a CT scan.

Laura Levaas:

I like that. A cocktail of tests. Good. Well, hopefully, that will be soon. Two more questions. This is a really great question, actually, from Gail O. Is there a resource for local oncologists to reach out to for information and collaboration about lung cancer? Because as I’m sure you know, some of these smaller centers, maybe those physicians aren’t seeing lung cancer patients. So, they – I don’t wanna say they don’t know what to do, but maybe a patient is not getting the appropriate treatment protocol.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

I mean, that’s a really good question. So, it depends on where you are in the world. So, there are guidelines that NCCN, National Comprehensive Cancer Network – which is a common guideline used in the USA – is updated every few months. And that’s a common thing that a private practitioner could look at. And yet, it’s astonishing how many people sort of still don’t follow that. That’s a guideline. And the trouble with guidelines is, they don’t describe every possible scenario. In terms of how do you –? This may come as a huge surprise to you, but doctors have egos.

Laura Levaas:


Dr. Ross Camidge:

No! So, how do you convince a person who may be a very good general oncologist that they don’t know everything? And that’s really hard. So, it’s not that we don’t necessarily have the resource. But we have to have people feel comfortable, if you like, asking for help. And I think that may be the biggest challenge.

I mean, I’ll give you an example. So, here we are in Colorado. There are probably several hundred medical oncologists in the state, of whom a handful ever send us patients for clinical trials. And you go, well, they must all see lung cancer. Lung cancer’s common. So, why do only some of them send people for clinical trials? Either they’re sending them somewhere else – and that’s okay – or they’re just not asking for help. And that is a huge tragedy if that’s happening.

Laura Levaas:

Yeah. So, is there a resource for local oncologists, like –?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Do you want me to actually answer the question?

Laura Levaas:

If it’s possible. It’s a big question.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

No. I mean, not in a – I mean, there are lots of separate resources. So, all oncologists are subject to CME, continuing medical education. There are videos they can watch. There are updates of all these conferences. But they have to want to do it. Nobody is getting down and forcing them to do it.

Laura Levaas:

Right. And I think that’s where an empowered patient comes in. An empowered patient will seek out the care that they’re looking for.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah. I mean, I do lots of second opinions. And for many of my patients, they’re around the world and around the country. And sometimes, their oncologist I form a very close relationship with because we both feel like we’re looking after the same person. And you almost feel like you’re kind of a co-parent. And that’s great because they don’t feel threatened by me, and I don’t feel threatened by them, and we can work together. “Well, this has happened. This is what the scan shows. What do you think? And I’ll do this.” And others don’t. But that’s how it can work well.

Laura Levaas:

Okay. Last question. This person’s name is Parentin B. I’ve never heard that name before. It’s very interesting. Are there recommendations about what patients can do themselves, like supplements, diet, exercise, etc., that could be helpful? And I know when I was first diagnosed, that was one of my first questions. Because my physician said, “Well, eat healthy.” And I was like, “Well, what does that mean?”

Dr. Ross Camidge:

What does that mean? Yeah.

Laura Levaas:

So, I think there’s a glut of, should we do Keto? Should we do Paleo? Should we go vegan? Vegetarian?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

I think one of the things is, what this is actually telling us is that when we’re diagnosed, we want to be part of the solution ourselves. We don’t want to be passive and have people do things to us. And I think the physicians who go, “Well, no. Nah,” I mean, they’re missing out on that need to take some aspect of control of our lives.

And so, some of it, you can channel that energy into becoming empowered and educating yourself about it. Not to the point that you’re obsessed about it, but I mean so that you’re, again – occasionally, I get patients who come in, and you go, “So, what treatment are you on?” And they go, “I don’t know.” And you go, “Well, you’re hardly taking control if you wanna change your diet, yet you can’t be bothered to learn the name of your chemotherapy. That’s not empowerment.”

I think diet is something we can all control in our lives. It can also make you – a diagnosis of cancer makes you vulnerable to anyone who wants to sell you any kind of quack theory. I think most people, at least our cancer dietitians here, would say, you bump up the fresh fruit and vegetables. You don’t have to become a juicer. But fresh fruit and vegetables generally make you feel better. They keep your bowels moving more, which sometimes, some of the treatments can interfere with that. You don’t have to feel guilty if you have a candy bar. But if you minimize the amount of highly processed food you have and the amount of sweets, that’s fine. It’s like anything else. You can have cheat dates. Don’t feel bad about it.

But all of that is kind of subjective. There’s people who are gonna tell you, you have to have cottage cheese and flax seed oil or the Gerson diet and have coffee enemas. I prefer my coffee this way, but –

Laura Levaas:

Me too.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

And there are always testimonials about these things, but there’s very little hard evidence that it actually makes a difference. The one exception is exercise. Actually, there’s quite a lot of data that being a healthy weight – so, not overweight, and just being active. It doesn’t mean you have to sign up for a triathlon, but just going for a walk every day or doing something actually makes people feel better, makes them cope with the treatment better. And there’s even some data that actually survival is improved. So, that’s definitely something that people can do.

Laura Levaas:

Well, those are all really good things. And I appreciate these questions. Many of them came from the ALK positive Facebook group that really helped me cope through some of my tough times. And there are some really smart folks in there, way smarter than me. Probably not as smart as you. But they –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

No! Way smarter than me! They’re all like nuclear physicists and things.

Laura Levaas:

I’m really amazed at the amount of specialized information that I’ve been able to find in these support groups. So, kind of winding up. Thank you, Dr. Camidge, for joining us today for – it’s a new program, actually, from the Patient Empowerment Network, but it’s produced by Patient Power. And again, we want to thank Celgene Corporation, Novartis, and Pfizer for their support, even though they don’t have editorial control. We’re kinda driving the bus. And we’re really grateful that you could join us today and answer all of these pressing questions.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

My pleasure.

Laura Levaas:

Thanks. We’ll catch you next time. And everybody, thanks for watching. Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

After Cancer, Ambushed By Depression

At some stage in all our lives there comes a time when feelings of sadness, grief or loneliness gets us down. It is part of being human. And after all, what’s more human than feeling down after such a life-changing and stressful event like cancer? Most of the time, we bounce back; but what happens when the blues stick around and start to interfere with our work, our relationships and our enjoyment of life?

Dana Jennings, whose writings in the New York Times about his treatment for prostate cancer, so eloquently captured the mix of feelings which cancer survivors face after treatment ends, wrote that while he was “buoyed by a kind of illness-induced adrenaline” during treatment, once treatment ended, he found himself “ambushed by depression.”

Jennings’ words will have a familiar ring to many of us who have struggled with that unexpected feeling of depression and loneliness that creeps up on us after treatment is finished. For some survivors, depression kicks in shortly after diagnosis or at some stage during treatment; for others it may ambush them weeks, months or even years after treatment ends.

What Causes Depression?

Depression is a word that means different things to each of us; people use it to describe anything from a low mood to a feeling of hopelessness.  However, there is a vast difference between clinical depression and sadness. Sadness is a part of being human; it comes and goes as a natural reaction to painful circumstances, but it passes with time. Depression goes beyond sadness about a cancer diagnosis or concern about the future.

In its mildest form, depression doesn’t stop you leading your normal life, but it does make things harder to do and seem less worthwhile. At its most severe, the symptoms of clinical depression are serious enough to interfere with work, social life, family life, or physical health.

Incidence of Depression in Cancer Survivors

Research shows that cancer survivors are more likely than their healthy peers to suffer psychological distress, such as anxiety and depression, even a decade after treatment ends. Although estimates of the frequency of depression in cancer patients vary, there is broad agreement that patients who face a disruptive life   event like cancer have an increased risk of depression that can persist for many years.  While most people will understand that dealing with a chronic illness like cancer causes depression, not everyone understands that depression can go on for many months (and even years) after cancer treatment has ended.

The Challenge of Identifying Depression in Cancer Patients

Some research has indicated that depression has been underdiagnosed and undertreated in cancer patients.  This may result from several factors, including patients’ reluctance to report depression, physician uncertainty about how best to manage it, and the belief that depression is a normal part of having cancer.

Several of the characteristics of major depression listed below– like fatigue, cognitive impairment, poor sleep, and change of appetite or weight loss—are hard to distinguish from the common side effects of cancer treatment. This makes it harder to tease apart the psychological burden of cancer, the effects of treatment, and the biochemical effects of the disease.

Are You At Risk of Depression?

Depression can occur through a combination of factors, with some of us being more prone to depression than others.  Factors such as a history of depression, a history of alcohol or substance abuse, and a lack of social support can increase the risk of depression in both the general population and among cancer patients.

Even if a person is not in a high-risk category, a diagnosis of cancer is associated with a higher rate of depression, no matter the stage or outcome of the disease.

Distress over a cancer diagnosis is not the same thing as clinical depression – it is important to recognize the signs and get treatment. The first step is to identify if you are experiencing symptoms of depression.

Try answering the following two questions.

Have you, for more than two weeks (1) felt sad, down or miserable most of the time? (2) Lost interest or pleasure in most of your usual activities?

If you answered ‘YES’ to either of these questions, you may have depression (see the symptom checklist below). If you did not answer ‘YES’ to either of these questions, it is unlikely that you have a depressive illness.

Depression Checklist*

(Tick each of the symptoms that apply to you)

  • Trouble sleeping with early waking, sleeping too much, or not being able to sleep
  • On-going sad or “empty” mood for most of the day
  • Finding it hard to concentrate or make decisions
  • Feeling restless and agitated, irritable or impatient
  • Extreme tiredness and lethargy
  • Feeling emotionally empty or numb
  • Not eating properly; losing or putting on weight
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities most of the time
  • Crying a lot
  • Losing interest in your sex life
  • Preoccupied with negative thoughts
  • Distancing yourself from others
  • Feeling pessimistic about the future
  • Anger, irritability, and impatience

Add up the number of ticks for your total score: _______

What does your score mean?

  • 4 or less: You are unlikely to be experiencing a depressive illness
  • 5 or more: It is likely that you may be experiencing a depressive illness.

NB This list is not a replacement for medical advice. If you’re concerned that you or someone you know may have symptoms of depression, it’s best to speak to your doctor.

Depression – The Way Forward

It’s common to experience a range of emotions and symptoms after a cancer diagnosis, including feelings of stress, sadness and anger. However, some people experience intense feelings of hopelessness for weeks, months, or even years after diagnosis. If you continue to experience emotional distress from your cancer, it’s very important to know that help is available, and to get the help you need.

The first step on the path to recovery is to accept your depression as a normal reaction to what you have been through –don’t try to fight it, bury it or feel ashamed that it is there.  Think of your depression as just another symptom of cancer. If you were in physical pain, you would seek help, and it’s the same for depression.  There are many people willing to help you but the first step is to let someone know how you are feeling. Finding the courage to talk to just one person, whether that’s a loved one, primary care physician, or specialist nurse will often be the first step towards healing.

The psychological effects of cancer are only beginning to be studied and understood. In time, doctors will not only treat the body to kill the cancer, but will treat the mind which suffers the consequences of the disease long after the body has healed. When you’re depressed it can feel like you are barely existing. By obtaining the correct medical intervention and learning better coping skills, however, you can not only live with depression, but live well.

A Note on Helping a Loved One with Depression

Perhaps you are reading this because you’re concerned about a loved one who might have depression.   You may be wondering how you can help. For people who have never experienced the devastating depths of major clinical depression, it may be difficult to understand what your loved one is going through. Depressed people find it hard to ask for help, so let your friend or family member know that you care, you believe in them and that you’re there for them.

The best thing you can is to listen. Don’t offer preachy platitudes about things never being as bad as you think, or suggesting the person snap out of the depression. Our culture doesn’t encourage people to talk about their emotional pain. We’re taught to suppress our feelings, not to show weakness, to get over things quickly. Most people, when they feel upset, benefit greatly by talking to someone who listens with empathy and without judgment. Most of the time the person who is depressed is not looking for advice, but just knowing that someone cares enough to listen deeply can make all the difference.

*References: American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th ed (DSM-IV). Washington, DC: APA, 1994; and, International classification of diseases and related health problems, 10th revision. Geneva, World Health Organisation, 1992-1994.

Helping Seniors With Long Term Recovery: Tips For Carers To Make The Process Easier

Every year over 525,000 Americans experiences their first heart attack while around 795,000 people experience strokes. Of that number, 75 percent of them are aged 65 and over. Recovering from medical conditions such as these can be a long road for older people. As we age, so does our bodies and immune system and recovery can take a longer time. The process of healing and returning to optimal health can be a stressful and trying time for both seniors and their caregivers, whether they are patients that are newly diagnosed or living with it for years. By implementing simple changes, you can ensure the process is a smooth and easy one for either yourself or a loved one.

Arrange For Help Sooner Rather Than Later – Both Personal And Infrastructural

The days immediately after medical events such as strokes, cardiac episodes, and even falls can find older Americans feeling frail and with limited movement. Small adjustments to both their living environment and making help available can help them in those initial times. Standard additions such as the placement of bath rails and reorganization of items to a more accessible level can help them maintain some level of independence and prevent further harm. Slips and falls are one of the most commonly reported incidents amongst seniors in America. Around1 in 4 older Americans experience falls each year and in those times where they are in long term recovery, these chances increase sizably.

In addition to making your home accessible, be sure to plan with other family members or carers a timetable to be present and help, particularly in the early days after being released from the hospital or care facilities. This is also the point where you will need to consider whether you can provide the level of long term care that person may need and do so comfortably at home.

Weigh Their Rehabilitation Options- Care Facilities Vs Recovering At Home

Speaking of providing long term care, considering the best rehabilitation option is one of the most important decisions in the recovery process of an older loved one. While most of us prefer to age at home, in a place surrounded by family and comfort there are cases where care facilities may prove to be better medically and financially. Some stroke patients can suffer long term loss of their motor skills and require round the clock care and physical rehabilitation. This can prove to be along, tough road and requires much commitment from both the caregivers and the patient. One of the most cited reasons for families not choosing assisted living is its costs. Take the time to inquire whether their state health insurance covers senior facilities and the extent of its coverage. Only then can you align your budgetary reach and make a decision on what you can afford.

Don’t Forget Their Mental Health

Our physical and mental health are strongly linked; a decline in one can impact the other. In long term recovery for seniors, this is particularly prevalent. Approximately 15 percent of adults 60 and older deal with mental illness including clinical depression. According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, 1-5 percent of the senior population are affected by depression. This can be further broken down into 13.5 percent of those that require home healthcare and 11.5 percent of those in hospitals. In addition, certain illnesses can trigger or worsen these symptoms including dementia, strokes and multiple sclerosis.

For those recovering, this can stem from long hospital stays or even PTSD from the actual event such as a stroke or fall. In long term recovery, there can also be a loss of motivation and sometimes, poor mental health can be influenced by a drastic change in their lifestyle such as regularly being active outdoors. It is important that we pay attention to both mental and physical recovery as they interrelate with each other. Think of ways to keep your older loved ones recovering (or in some cases, yourself) motivated. Account for small progress and celebrate them as targets. In addition, speaking to a professional or even confiding in a family member can be beneficial to them getting their thoughts out. While the way life may look may have changed, its new routine does not necessarily have to be viewed through a bad light. Establishing hobbies and a strong support network for senior citizens can prove invaluable during this time.

Words Matter: Why Cancer Isn’t a Game of Winners or Losers

Are you “battling” cancer? Do you know someone who has “lost their fight” with the disease and died?

It seems whenever we hear a story about someone with cancer, war metaphors are never far behind.  Cancer battles must invariably be bravely fought, won, or lost.  Using this metaphor implies that if a patient fights hard enough and/or long enough, he or she will be able to “win the war.” The trouble with using this particular kind of metaphor to describe cancer is it puts the burden of healing on patients by turning them into winners and losers.  As breast cancer blogger, Nancy Stordahl, writes in What Does Beating Cancer Mean Anyway? ”Struggling to live up to some gold standard of what beating cancer means, adds to the already exhausting burden. We need to stop patronizing and judging cancer patients based on misguided battle talk analogies. Cancer isn’t an opponent in some war game you can stomp out by mindset or determination.”

Besides, the battle metaphor takes no account of the sheer randomness of the disease. Using a statistical model that measures the proportion of cancer risk, across many tissue types, scientists from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center published a study in 2015 which concluded that two-thirds of the variation in adult cancer risk across tissues can be explained primarily by “bad luck.” In other words, a major contributing factor to cancer is in fact beyond anyone’s control. For the most part, we don’t know why one person is alive 10 years after the diagnosis of advanced cancer, whereas another dies within months.

By this reasoning, no amount of fighting or battling cancer can affect its outcome.  Commenting on the study, the researchers said, “Many people have found relief in this research. Cancer has a long history of stigmatization. Patients and family members frequently blame themselves, believing there was something they could have done to prevent their or their family member’s cancer. We have heard from many of these families and are pleased that our analysis could bring comfort and even lift the burden of guilt in those who have suffered the physical and emotional consequences of cancer.”

Cancer is a disease; not a military campaign

Cancer is a disease; not a military campaign. In the words of patient and caregiver Jana Buhlman, “it’s a disease that people manage.”  Cancer is a complex disease. Yet there still exists a prevailing attitude to cancer which treats survival as though it were somehow an act of will.  You’ve got to be strong, remain positive and be courageous to overcome the disease.  Clodagh Loughrey, who was diagnosed with breast cancer nine years ago, explains, “I was absolutely petrified at the time, the opposite of strong or courageous, and to be also made to feel guilty for being scared by well-meaning exhortations to be ‘be positive’….people mean well and I didn’t want to sound ungrateful for the support as it is far worse (and easier for them) to avoid people with cancer, and some people did.”

What other diseases or condition do we say this about? “Do we fight a heart attack or a stroke? Are we told in any other illness to “keep fighting”? asks Jo Taylor, Founder of After Breast Cancer Diagnosis.   The fact is cancer doesn’t care how courageous or positive you are. Patients are in remission because treatment eliminated every cancer cell from their bodies, not because the patient fought courageously or was endlessly positive.  As a patient who is currently NED (i.e. no evidence of disease) I didn’t fight any harder than anyone else with this disease. I haven’t “beaten” cancer. I don’t know for sure that cancer will not come back again.

Cancer isn’t a game of winners and losers

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read about patients who are in remission from cancer, having “won their fight” against the disease. Journalists in particular seem incapable of writing about a person who has died from cancer without resorting to the “lost fight” cliché.  Julia Barnickle, who is living with metastatic breast cancer, points out that while she doesn’t like the term personally, “I have no problem with cancer patients using fighting talk. However, I do object to the media using it, especially in the situation where someone is said to have “lost their battle with cancer.” It’s simply a hackneyed way of grabbing attention.”

Does this imply that patients in remission have somehow done more than those who aren’t in remission?  Or that cancer progression or death from cancer is somehow an indication of failure – of not having had the ability to fight and defeat the enemy?  “It seems,” in the words of breast cancer blogger Maureen Kenny, “if you’ve got cancer you’re almost always seen as battling or fighting it, more often than not bravely. We never hear of anyone dying of the disease after a lacklustre, take or it or leave it, weak-willed tussle.”

Cancer shouldn’t be reduced in this way to a game of winners and losers.  Commenting at the time of the death of film critic Roger Ebert, Michael Wosnick, wrote: “The use of the word, “lose” is like a zero-sum game to me: if someone or something loses then that means that someone or something else wins. You can’t have a loser if you don’t have a winner. We should not so easily give cancer that kind of power over us.”

If someone has lifelong hypertension and dies from a heart attack, do we say in the obituary that they lost their battle with high blood pressure? Then why do so many deaths from cancer get reported this way? While it’s not quite “blaming the victim”, it does have an implicit element of somehow placing the ultimate responsibility for having died in the hands of the deceased.

When words blame

Oncologist, Dr Don Dizon, tells a story about taking care of a young patient with ovarian cancer during his first year as an attending physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The patient had just relapsed from first-line treatment and in his discussion with her about the next steps, Dr. Dizon explains that, “despite the failure of first-line treatment, there are many more options for you.”

The doctor was stunned by the patient’s tearful reaction to his words: “You make it sound like this was my fault, like I did something wrong!” she said. “I’m sorry I failed chemotherapy, if that’s what you think, and I’m sorry I disappointed you.”

It’s a lesson Dr. Dizon has never forgotten, as he describes in his own words: “It was never my intention to place ‘blame’ on something so devastating as a cancer recurrence, and I certainly did not mean to imply that she had failed. These many years later, I still consider this encounter a watershed moment in my career as an oncologist.”

The “battle with cancer” may be “only a metaphor” but it stands for a quite destructive attitude that, to the extent it influences doctors as well, distorts the treatment of cancer too.  In a JAMA Oncology article, the authors discuss how “the continuous urge to win the battle extends to oncologists, who actively treat patients for too long. The fact is that 8% of patients receive chemotherapy within 2 weeks of dying of cancer, and 62% within 2 months. Late chemotherapy is associated with decreased use of hospice, greater use of emergency interventions (including resuscitation), and increased risk of dying in an intensive care unit vs at home. This all clearly reflects our society’s need to battle until the end.”

Embracing a fighting spirit can work for some patients

This isn’t to deny that some cancer patients embrace a fighting spirit as a way that helps them feel more in control.  Cancer survivor, nurse and educator, Beth Thompson describes how “identifying as a shorn ‘warrior’ psyched me up for and pushed me through treatment.”  Sara Turle, a 9-year survivor of cancer, also found resonance in the metaphor. “For me I was never battling cancer: it’s a disease, but I was definitely battling how I managed diagnosis and particularly getting through the side effects of treatments,” she explains. “It helped me to look at each stage and at times each day and even hour, at worst points, with a view of getting through, surviving and celebrating with just a simple acknowledgement. It truly helped me feeling that achievement and it helped with knowing that I was going to have to face it again.”

Professor Elena Semino and her colleagues have been studying the use of metaphors in the way we talk about cancer since 2012. As part of their research they have analysed 1.5 million words taken from interviews and online forum discussions involving cancer patients, family carers and health professionals. The team found that the type of metaphors people chose to use when describing their cancer reflected and affected how they viewed and experienced their illness. “For some patients, some of the time, the idea of being engaged in a fight is motivating,” explained Sermino. “Some people say with pride that “I’m such a fighter”, and they find a sense of meaning and purpose and identity in that. The study showed that we are all different, and different metaphors work for different people, and at different times.”

I agree. I’m not criticizing individuals who draw strength from calling themselves fighters.  Everyone is entitled to use whatever language they want to describe their own experiences. As Sara says, “My belief is that the right language is what is right for the individual person and I would hate to think that people who do find this language helps, feel that they can’t openly use for fear of what others may think. Whatever language gets you through is the right language for me. I am very mindful of when speaking to people now to be sensitive to the language they are happy with and these discussions of differing views have helped me with this.”  Beth agrees and asks, “Can we educate while still leaving room for what works for the individual experience of cancer?”

Wrapping Up

If you believe, as many patients do, that the words we use to describe cancer matter, how then should we begin to conceptualize it? Stephanie Sliekers asks a similar question in this HuffPost article, “If cancer really is the ‘enemy’, what’s the best way to beat it?” Her answer? “By studying and understanding it as it is, a disease borne out of human blood, tissues and genes, a disease that lives within us whether it is treatable or fatal.”

Perhaps, rather than speaking of cancer in militaristic terms, it’s better to communicate that we are “living with cancer” for as long and as well as we can. And when a person dies, let’s not say he/she has lost anything, but rather that person has died after living with cancer for a period of time.

Words matter a great deal in life, death, and everything that comes in-between. To quote Dr Dizon “Words are powerful and despite our best intentions, can hurt—this is true in life, and it is true in oncology.”

5 Ways to Have a Productive Day with a Chronic Illness

“Having a productive day is very subjective; what is productive for one person is not for another”.

Some days, I find waking up, washing and eating productive. Others assess,  I am being productive when I  do University work.  What I have noticed though – is we all have tasks that need to be completed and this can send us into panic mode. The vicious cycle, of where to start and where to finish has a ripple effect – like a child who got denied candy at the fun fair.

If you are someone sat there reading this with a chronic illness, I am sure you have an inkling of the cycle I am talking about. If you don’t well… I sit here, in envy.  What I am going to call the ‘ torrential storm cycle’ makes you question which direction to go in first.   Anxiety and stress are no strangers, crawling around your body, taking its toll , physically and mentally.  This post is designed to stop you in your tracks, so you aren’t continuously interrogating yourself about ability and self-worth.

“I spend 90% of my time in bed, but a chronic illness does not mean accomplishing your goals are not possible”.

Achieving those goals may just take comprise, planning and longer than you anticipated.

5 Ways to have a Productive Day with a Chronic Illness

1. Evaluate tasks ft. the spoon theory

If you haven’t heard of Christine Miserandino’s Spoon theory , it is a great place to start to help you have a productive day.  The theory in a nutshell, is that anyone who is chronically ill has 12 spoons each day (each one resembling energy) and spoons are exchanged for tasks.  The amount of spoons exchanged will depend on factors such as the length of the task and how strenuous. The point here, is spoon must be used wisely so you don’t burn out. By ordering tasks by importance you can identify what needs to be done on what day and start to put a plan in motion.


In reality, you may find executing a plan is not always possible. However, the spoon theory gives you a general consensus of how much you can get done in a day.

You may find – once you start having a productive day you are at the opposite end of the spectrum. At Uni, I get told a theory is just that a theory. I am taught to challenge theorists view. So it may not be a surprise to hear I wasn’t a firm believer of the Spoon theory at first.  I was so productive one day I felt on top of the world. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had completed an exam, handed in an assignment, found a job, booked a flight, travelled home from Uni and packed for a holiday and cuddled my little bunny.

Shortly, after this semester came to a close – I realised I used the reserve of spoons for months. I had to fly home 3 weeks early from working abroad, quit the job I found and was  behind in every subject at Uni. Barely, attending lectures and hospital appointments.  What I am trying to emphasise, is pushing yourself one day really can have a detrimental effect on your health.

“You need to work out what is realistic to get done in a day for YOU”.

 Which takes me to by next point…

 2. Break down tasks

 Breaking down tasks makes things more manageable.  Something,  I am training myself in like a disobedient dog. I am one of those people who seeks to think holistically to even do a task.  However, breaking down tasks can relieve stress, because you know you are achieving something – which has got to be better than nothing, right?


I have found people have been more understanding about my illness when they can see that I am trying rather than wallowing in self-pity.  The amount you need to break-down a task will depend on its complexity. It may be a case of trial and error, but you know your body better than anyone in time you will have this down to a tee.

If it’s something academic, you could try and break things down with titles and research areas and tie the ideas together later.  You may not get the best grades you are used to due to time constraints.  However, at least you will pass and can try and work harder when you are feeling a bit brighter on future work. If the task is practical, like cooking, you could do prep at a certain time and then cook later in the day.  Or if you’re a little bit cheeky – ask someone to help you to make the task manageable.

3. Follow your Body Clock

Most people would say, sort out your body clock first and foremost. It may work, but it is something I have been trying to do for over 10 years. My body just likes to be up during the night. The fatigue and pain is more manageable after I have digested by one meal per day.

“To have a productive day you must follow your natural body clock”.

You don’t want to set yourself up for failure by taking a U-turn and trying to achieve tasks when your energy levels and pain threshold is low.

body clock

“Remember you can always move tasks to another day as long as you’re motivated to accomplish them”.

4. Relax… just not too much

Whether you have a chronic illness or not, everyone should take time to wind down.  If you’re fortunate enough TAKE a bath, or go and visit someone who does! Watch a comedy, listen to music or sit in silence, do what works for YOU. I am not saying you are not going to wake up still feeling fatigued because you probably will BUT subconsciously your body and mind is still getting a valuable break and you get a hint of happiness.  I find relaxing whilst doing a task slowly usually gives me the right balance. However, this may not work for everyone.

“Just remember, don’t relax too much or you won’t get anything done”.


5. Relieve stress with a pet

Patting pets are proven to having a calming effect on humans (Rodriguez2012), which may help you to think more clearly and be more productive! It is ideal if you own a pet and go and give them love when you are stressed and they are in a good mood. If your pet is moody, trust me try hugging your friends’ pet or the other four tips AND come back to this one later.  When my pets are hungry they treats me like food and it makes me feel rejected and has the opposite effect.  If you cannot keep an animal, I suggest you look out for the nearest dog on your walks or go visit an animal shelter. That way you can have your rare day out, killing two birds with one stone.

This blog was written by Morgan Shaw and originally posted on her blog, Brains & Bodies, here.

Notable News: Chemobrain

Sometimes the most notable information isn’t the latest research or current news story. Sometimes what is most notable is what is most pertinent to patients and survivors. So, this month when a survivor shared her struggle with “chemobrain”, it seemed like something worth looking into. Chemobrain, also called chemofog, is something cancer survivors have described for decades, says For months, or sometimes years after treatment, survivors find that they struggle with their memory, paying attention, and processing information. Labeled chemobrain because so many of the survivors had chemotherapy, the actual cause isn’t completely known. For many years, patients who complained about chemobrain were dismissed, but now, the condition is widely acknowledged by the medical community. The cognitive issues can be associated with treatment of many types of cancer, but much of the research is focused on breast cancer survivors. Studies have shown that 17 percent to 75 percent of breast cancer survivors showed varying forms of chemo brain from six month to 20 years after treatment. Further research is being done to understand why some do and some don’t get chemobrain and what actually causes the cognitive issues. Chemobrain is for real; survivors who struggle with it, know that for sure. More information about chemobrain can be found here, and a top ten list of what survivors want you to know about chemobrain can be found here.

Chemobrain isn’t the only thing survivors need to consider after treatment. They need to stay healthy to lower their risk of recurrence or of getting another form of cancer. According to, follow-up care as ordered by your doctor is critical, but so is making healthy choices. Healthy choices include quitting smoking and/or avoiding second-hand smoke, limiting alcohol consumption, protecting your skin, eating fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, and getting a flu shot every year. More resources for healthy living after cancer can be found here.

Healthy living, research continues to show, is also critical in preventing cancer. Researchers have found a direct link between sugary drinks and the accelerated growth of tumors in colorectal cancer, reports The research, done on mice, will need to be expanded before the findings can be applied to humans, but the research does suggest that consuming sugary drinks can reduce the time it takes for cancer to form. More about the study can be found here.

While you may not have been able to avoid it in the news, there is something else you might want to avoid in order to prevent cancer, reports A study shows that chemicals, found in the weed killer Roundup, increase the risk of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma by 41 percent. That makes the link between the weed killer and cancer stronger than was previously believed. The studies concerning Roundup and cancer continue, and more information can be found here.

There are some things about cancer that we may never understand, such as who will or won’t get chemobrain, but research continues to provide information about ways to prevent cancer, ways to live well after treatment, and ways to lower the risk of recurrence, and that is information that helps and empowers us all.

Everything You Need to Know About Dating with a Chronic Illness

If you live with a chronic illness like pulmonary fibrosis, diabetes or Crohn’s disease, your dating life is going to look a little different–and that’s okay. Being single and navigating the world of dating is challenging for everyone, but it can be especially difficult when your life comes with complications like needing to pack medication every time you leave home for more than a few hours.

Finding someone who shares your interests and who will support you through life’s ups and downs takes time, so be patient and have fun. Whether you choose dating sites, singles events, clubs or meetups, putting yourself out there will help you find that special person who will love you unconditionally–even on your worst days. If you are single with a chronic illness, follow these tips to make your dating journey a little easier.

Be Upfront About Your Illness

Deciding when to disclose your illness to a potential romantic connection is entirely up to you but consider telling them about it at the beginning of your interaction. It can be difficult to open up about something so personal to a stranger you don’t know and trust, but it can help you weed out people who aren’t worth your time. If someone isn’t going to accept all of you and love you the way you are, that person isn’t worth dating.

If you are anxious about discussing your illness with a date, why not use technology to your advantage? Tell them about it over an email, text message or phone call. People’s first reaction when they find out about your illness may be shock or discomfort, so allowing them time to unpack that information before you sit down for a date can help you both decide if moving forward is right. Plus, by the time you meet up, they’ll have had a chance to let it settle and come up with meaningful questions they have about your illness and how it affects your life. Being upfront is scary, but it’s an incredibly helpful dating tool.

Highlight Your Best Assets and Don’t Be a Victim

You’re going to be just as self-conscious on a first date as anyone, so practice the best piece of dating advice out there and play up your best assets! If your illness has caused some weight loss or weight gain, go shopping for an outfit that fits great and highlights your favorite body parts. Experiencing hair loss? Try a cool hat or an updo. Figure out what you love most about yourself and play up those areas while minimizing the things that make you feel self-conscious. Confidence looks hot on everyone.

People are going to follow your lead when it comes to your illness. The more relaxed you act about it, the better they will feel about it. If you are sad about it, they will feel sad about it. Lead by example and don’t walk around holding up a sign that says you’re a victim. You’ve got to love yourself before anyone else can love you–with or without a chronic illness.

Be Willing to Adapt

Things aren’t always going to go as planned, so adaptability is key to avoiding some of the frustrations of dating with a chronic illness. You might have just spent hours getting ready for a date and then realize you need a nap. That’s okay. Sometimes your significant other may want to do something your body won’t let you do. It’s going to be frustrating at first, even embarrassing. But once you and your partner learn that plans will sometimes change, you’ll see that it doesn’t need to affect your relationship negatively.

If you have dietary restrictions, consider alternatives to the dinner date. We tend to have it hard-wired into our brains how a date should look, but quality time can be spent in many ways. Do something outside, enjoy the arts, see a movie and pack your snacks from home. Who cares if your dating life looks a little different than it does in cheesy romantic comedies? Life happens and the more willing you are to adapt, the better you can love and be loved.

Don’t Overdo it and Laugh it Off if You Do

Adventure sports or extreme roller coasters might not be the best first date ideas if you live with a chronic illness. Don’t pretend like something is fine if it’s not. If you have a migraine, you’re not going to have fun at a rock concert, and if you are miserable, your date isn’t going to have fun either. It’s better to be upfront about how you are feeling and what you can do than try to tough it out and deal with the consequences later. Pretending isn’t fun and it’s not a good way to get to know someone.

When you do find yourself in a less-than-ideal situation, remember to laugh it off. You’re going to fall sometimes or need to sneak away to give yourself medication or treatment in an awkward way. Don’t take it too seriously. There are many circumstances you go through with a chronic illness that are silly and it’s best to laugh about them rather than make them a big deal.


Recognize When They Aren’t Worth Your Time

Some people just don’t have what it takes to handle someone’s health issue. Some people lack empathy or don’t have the willingness to nurture others. If someone is insensitive, rude, describes you as “difficult” or their lifestyle contradicts yours, you need to let them go. People who are worth your time and energy as a friend, let alone a potential romantic partner, will understand that you have good days and bad. They won’t ever fully understand what you go through, but they’ll want to try. They’ll be respectful, supportive and loving.

Remember You Are Worthy of Love

Don’t define yourself and your personality by your illness. You are a person, first and foremost, who happens to be sick. When you stop thinking of yourself as an illness, others will, too. You may have certain limits in life, but that doesn’t make you less worthy or capable of love. Not by a long shot.


Tips on Finding a New Job or Changing Career after Cancer Treatment

In this three-part series, I’ve been exploring different aspects of returning (or continuing) to work after a cancer diagnosis. So far I’ve tackled issues from preparing to return to work and handling your workload, to dealing with problems such as fatigue and concentration.  In the final part of this series, I’m turning my attention to finding a new job after cancer treatment has ended.

There are a number of reasons why you might be looking for a new job after cancer. Perhaps you crave a fresh start, somewhere where you’re not known as the co-worker with cancer.  Or perhaps you need more work flexibility – such as the option to work part-time –  but your current employer isn’t in a position to make the adjustments you need. Or maybe you want to change career, switching direction towards something more meaningful and fulfilling.

Whether you’re looking for a new job or considering a new career direction, this month’s article has plenty of practical advice to help you.

1. Get Clarity on Your Direction

A good place to start is by getting clear on your new goals, financial needs and current skills and abilities. Grab a pen and some paper and take some time thinking about your responses to the following questions.

  • What are my core skills and strengths? Am I using them to their fullest in my current (or previous) job? Which skills and interests from my previous jobs will transfer over to a new position or field?
  • What new insights or skills have I gained through cancer? Do I want to be able to use these in my job?
  • Have my career goals changed? Do I want to work in a similar job but with more work-life balance? Or do I want to try something new?
  • Do I have the required skills for a new career interest? Will I need to retrain? How will this impact me financially?
  • Do I have the stamina to take on something new? Do I need to consider the impact of any long term side-effects from treatment on my ability to work?

2. Update Your Resume

The next step is to get your resume in order.  If it’s been several years since you last applied for a job, you may need to take into account that resume writing has changed quite a bit in the past decade. For example, the chronologically based resume (listing job titles, companies and dates in chronological order), while still popular, is giving way to a more dynamic skills-based one.   This is good news if you want to work around a gap in your employment history.  For a skills-based resume, you will create a relevant summary of your skills, career accomplishments and career goals and position this directly below your name.  You should aim to provide an example of an area of accomplishment related to each specific skill.

Pro Tip: When it comes to including employment dates, don’t include months in the dates, only years. This helps narrow the work gaps.

3. Develop Your Network

Make a list of everyone you know who is currently working in your industry or the industry you’d like to be in. Take a strategic approach by setting achievable goals for the number of people you want to connect with every week. Reach out to them and tell them about your plans to find new work or change career direction. Ask them to keep you updated of any new job openings and leads. Hiring managers are more willing to consider you for an interview after a personal recommendation.

Pro Tip: When it comes to building your professional network there’s no better tool than LinkedIn. LinkedIn multiplies your existing personal and professional networks by making the connections of your connections available to you at the touch of a digital finger.

4. Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile

Your LinkedIn profile is the cornerstone of your professional brand online. While you may already have a profile on the platform, is it optimized for a job search?   LinkedIn profile optimization simply means that your LinkedIn profile is fully updated to maximize your visibility on the platform. Everything you do on LinkedIn begins with your profile. Yet many professionals still treat their LinkedIn profile as little more than a place to park their resume and promptly forget about it.

You won’t be effective at LinkedIn networking if your profile doesn’t entice people to get to know you. Here are some quick tips to optimize your profile (for a step-by-step guide with more detailed information, click here).

  • Make your first visual impression count by displaying a high-quality professional photo.
  • Adding a background image directly behind your photo will help brand your profile. Think of it as your professional billboard.
  • Create a strong professional headline. This is a critical step because your professional headline is not just highly visible on LinkedIn, it’s also searchable by Google.
  • Nurture your LinkedIn relationships through regular engagement. This is not about making large numbers of contacts; rather, it’s about making meaningful connections.
  • Join industry relevant groups. Job openings are often posted by recruiters in industry groups. You will find groups by clicking on Interests > Groups from your profile or searching keywords to identify groups with interests similar to yours.
  • Become an active and engaged user. When you log into LinkedIn, notice each time who shows up in your home feed. Most likely you will see the same few people. These individuals are getting more visibility because they are more active. If you make the commitment to become more active in your network, you will increase your visibility
  • Be strategic about when you’re active on LinkedIn. As a general rule, LinkedIn users are most active right before and after work (7–8 am and 5– 6 pm), as well as during lunch time.

Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to use social media to your advantage: if you know the hiring manager’s or recruiter’s name, add them on LinkedIn.

5. Mind Your Digital Footprint

Employers are increasingly carrying out social media checks on prospective employees. Anticipate this by googling yourself to see what turns up.  Here is where a professional profile on LinkedIn can be enormously helpful to present the best impression. Because of the way Google’s search algorithm works, an optimized LinkedIn profile will frequently show up in the first few places of a Google search for your name.

While LinkedIn is an asset, other forms of social media may harm your search for a new job. Sharing personal information about your treatment through a blog, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook is publicly searchable by potential employers.  Many of us turn to social media sites and blogs to keep our families and friends updated on our progress and to seek support during cancer treatment.  But when your focus returns to work, you may not want your employer or prospective employer to know of your cancer history.

Pro Tip: Take some proactive steps to protect your privacy online.  Set privacy settings on things like Facebook so that nothing can be seen by people who aren’t “friends” (including pages you are a fan of – an often forgotten detail). Delete what you can from your postings on Facebook and other media that talk about your cancer. Set up a Google Alert to monitor mentions for your name.

6. Handling the Job Interview

A job interview is stressful at the best of times, but when you’re anxious about handling the question of cancer, it’s doubly so. Sixty-one percent of cancer survivors looking for a job said they fear disclosing their cancer diagnosis will negatively affect their chances of getting hired.

Rehearsing what you plan on saying ahead of time greatly reduces any anxiety you may feel. The more prepared you are before the interview, the more relaxed and at ease you will appear during the interview. Draw up a list of potential questions and practice your answers.  Accentuate the positive. For now, put aside your worries about how to explain the gap in your resume and spend some time focusing on why you are the right person for the specific job that you are applying for. List at least ten great qualities and skills you have and ask friends and family to help you brainstorm more. Try to find a willing friend or family member who will role-play the interview with you.

Remember you don’t have to disclose your cancer history either on your application or during an interview. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from asking job applicants about a disability (this includes cancer) before offering them the job.  However, you may decide you want to be upfront about a work-related absence. If this is the case, you can deal with it by briefly explaining you had some time off work for a health (or family) related reason, but that’s behind you and you’re now looking forward to re-joining the workforce. Keep it simple, stick to one sentence or two and don’t be tempted to digress. Then switch the direction of the questioning back to your skills and qualifications for the job.

Pro Tip: Do your research before going into an interview. By showing off your knowledge of both the company and the industry, you are conveying to the interviewer that you are still up-to-date even if you have been absent from work for a period of time.

7. Considering a Career Change

Cancer changes your outlook on life.  Alongside an increased awareness of the preciousness of time, you may also have decreased tolerance for spending time on meaningless tasks. Many cancer survivors, my own self included, have felt a calling for more meaningful work after their treatment has ended.    I’d like to finish this back-to-work series by sharing the stories of three such people who have used their cancer experience as a way to help others and forged new careers in the process.

Jennifer Elliott was a pre-kindergarten to elementary school age music teacher before being diagnosed with bilateral synchronous breast cancer in 2014. Since her diagnosis, her focus has shifted to patient advocacy.  “My advocacy began when I realized that my access to industry trained people, thanks to where I live and who my friends are, was impacting my care in a positive way,” said Jennifer.   “That made me angry, because we should all have equal access to quality care.  I’m now applying to graduate degree programs in public policy because, as I’m advocating for breast cancer survivors I’ve learned that all the things I’m advocating for are impacted or dictated by policy and if I want to have the broadest impact I need some policy skills and training.”

Terri Coutee was focused on a life-long dream of completing a Master’s program in teacher leadership when she received news of her second breast cancer diagnosis. “The diagnosis was the catalyst to evaluate my professional career,” explained Terri.  “I had to focus on my treatment and major surgery over a period of seven months. This gave me time to re-evaluate, research, and refocus. I learned less than 25% of women and men were not being given their options for breast reconstruction after mastectomy. As a life-long educator, I realized I could educate those affected by breast cancer and learn from my experience. A blog about my successful breast reconstruction experience led to opening a non-profit Foundation to educate a global audience through social media, attending medical conferences, and making as many personal connections as I could to assist others through their own journey. The need is endless because we haven’t found a cure for breast cancer, yet. Until we do, I will continue to educate and provide resources for the very best medical care for others faced with mastectomy.”

At the age of 51, Chris Lewis wasn’t looking for a career change. “I was working for myself and was at the peak of my earning power,” he said. “Then a poor prognosis of incurable blood cancer and my life was turned upside down. I have since had many years of complex treatment meaning I could not return to employment of any description. As my survivorship moved from months to years I needed a purpose. My body was in bad shape but I still had a business mind.”

Unhappy at the poor resources and help for people living with cancer, Chris took to the Internet to voice his displeasure, leading to him running his own successful website Chris’s Cancer Community.  “This led to me becoming a global expert speaker and writer”, said Chris. “I am self-taught in social media and an award winning writer. As a patient advocate I speak at many high profile conferences. Cancer has taken a lot from me, but has shown me a new way of life I would never have experienced. The big bonus is the incredible people I get to meet and talk to daily. It seems even at my age I have found a new career!”