HED:Life after cancer

Know the facts

Nancy Keene, author of "Childhood Cancer Survivors: A Practical Guide to Your Future," advises survivors to keep a copy of their medical history. Ask the treating institution to provide the following information:

- Name of disease.

- Date of diagnosis and relapse, if any.

- Place of treatment.

- Dates of treatment.

- Clinical trial protocol number and name.

- Names of attending oncologist and nurse.

- Names and total dosages of chemotherapy drugs used.

- Name of radiation center.

- Dates radiation was received.

- Amount of radiation and to what body part, e.g., whole body, cranial, etc.

- Date and type of any surgeries.

- Date and type of bone marrow or stem cell transplant(s), if any.

- Any major treatment complications.

- Any persistent side effects of treatment.

- Recommended medical follow-up.

- Contact numbers for treating institutions.

To learn more about what to expect after cancer, Keene's book, which retails for $27.95, is available at bookstores or may be ordered by calling 1-800-998-9938.

For more information about "Childhood Cancer Survivors," check out the publisher's Web address,

Helping hand

To find out more about the effects of cancer as well as treatment, try asking someone who's been there. The following support groups are available in the area:

- Women First, a breast cancer support group, meets at 6:30 p.m. the second Monday of each month at Wesley United Methodist Church in Tupelo. For more information, call 840-2014 or 841-4077.

- Man to Man, a prostate cancer support group, meets the first Tuesday of each month at North Mississippi Medical Center's East Tower Education Room. The July 4 meeting has been canceled. Call 841-3985 for more information.

- Look Good, Feel Better is a cancer support group for female cancer patients. Call Cindy Edwards at 841-4049 for more information.

By M. Scott Morris

Daily Journal

Perhaps someday scientists will discover a way to kill cancer without hurting the body.

"Treatment kills all the cells, not just the cancer cells," said Sandy Owen, a survivor of childhood leukemia.

In the early 1970s, Owen underwent a barrage of sticks, stabs and radiation to eradicate the cancer in her young body. The effort was successful: She's a 33-year-old survivor and going strong.

But she's not completely free. Owen must remain on guard for the physical and emotional effects caused by the disease as well as its treatment.

"Part of my treatment was a drug that affects your bones," she said. "I'm more prone to osteoporosis."

In the book "Childhood Cancer Survivors: A Practical Guide to Your Future," author Nancy Keene writes that cancer survivors must be wary of such things as heart disease, breast cancer, prostate damage and hepatitis as well as other problems that may be caused by cancer treatment.

"Many survivors don't know they're at risk," Keene said. "Many physicians aren't familiar with the long-term effects of cancer treatment."

Knowledge is power

A lot of survivors would be happy to forget their battle with cancer. It's an attitude Keene understands.

"Some really struggle with grief about the pain they went through. I know people who are still angry years later," Keene said. "There can be a whole range of emotions."

Keene's interest in cancer is emotional. Her daughter was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 3. After her daughter's cancer went into remission, Keene wondered what other obstacles she might face in the future.

"I just want to learn what my daughter's risks are," she said. "The point of knowing about risk is not to be fearful. It's knowing what you need to know. I put it in a little drawer in my brain and don't worry about it. I have the knowledge, but I don't let it take over my life."

Keene advises everyone to shine a light on their battle with cancer and find out exactly what treatments they underwent and when.

Treatment institutions like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis or North Mississippi Medical Center's Cancer Center, can provide the information that allows physicians to provide better care.

"If survivors know they took chemotherapy or high-dose radiation, they can advocate for themselves," she said. "Every survivor of cancer should have a treatment summary to give to their doctor."

Women who received radiation to the upper body are at increased risk of breast cancer, which means mammograms should be conducted yearly in her 20s instead of waiting until she turns 40.

Someone who knows they had a blood transfusion before 1992 would be advised to get screened for hepatitis C virus before it causes extensive damage.

"If you know you're at risk, you can be screened for it," Keene said.

Quality of life

Not all issues that arise after cancer treatment are life and death, but they can still be important. Treatment for some brain tumors can cause learning disabilities.

"If educators know this, they can adjust to provide the child the best education possible," Keene said.

Knowledge also comes in handy when dealing with insurance companies.

"Girls need mammograms earlier than insurance companies will pay for," Owen said. "We've having to battle the insurance company."

A letter from the oncologist who treated the patient can help. After all, it's far cheaper to pay for a mammogram than treatment for advanced stages of breast cancer.

Cindy Smith, a registered dietitian with NMMC's Cancer Center, said most cancer patients can expect problems with insurance companies, at least in the short term.

"Any time you try to sign up for a different type of insurance, like life insurance, you have to fill out different questions," she said. "One of the things on there is a question about cancer."

The good news is that after a person is cancer-free for five years, insurance companies generally drop their objections, Smith said.

Roses with the thorns

To her best recollection, Tupelo resident Hazel Jones, 75, is a 46-year cancer survivor.

"It was a long time ago. I was folding clothes when the report came that I had cancer," Jones said. "I was very young, and I had a family to take care of."

The cancer was removed after a complete hysterectomy, but the fear of cancer stayed with her.

"I insisted on selling our big house and getting a smaller one," she said. "I was afraid something might happen to me and I didn't want it to fall on the children to keep up a big house. You have these thoughts."

That anxiety also had a positive side. To turn around an old cliche, "Every thorn has its rose."

"It changed my life completely," she said. "You learn to appreciate everything."

Owen said cancer had the same effect on her life. She credits her early experiences with leading her to a nursing career.

"I worked at St. Jude for three years. I became the first patient to work there," she said. "When people found out I had the same type of cancer their children had, they'd hunt me down."

Owen stays in touch with St. Jude, so she knows what possible health problems to guard against and that increases her chances of someday matching or surpassing Jones' longevity. For now, she's a survivor and plans to stay that way.

"There was a lot of bad about cancer, but there were good parts, like the friends I've made," she said. "I wouldn't wish cancer on anybody but God has blessed me with cancer. That might be hard for some people to understand, but it's true."

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