For cancer patients, life after treatment comes with a new set of challenges. Fortunately, support systems are close at hand.

By Pam George  |  Photograph by Carolyn Watson
From the June 2017 issue

june-feature-cancer-survivorsIn the past, when Lisa Welling spotted May 5 on a calendar, she immediately associated it with Cinco de Mayo, a festive Mexican holiday. The longtime bartender and restaurant manager would gear up to cater to a crowd of tequila drinkers, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds or the establishment’s cuisine. That changed on May 5, 2015, when she got a phone call from her doctor’s office. Welling had breast cancer. “I never liked margaritas anyway,” she says with a characteristic splash of wry humor.

A single mother, Welling underwent a double mastectomy and four rounds of chemo-therapy, which she completed on Oct. 2, 2015. To signal the end of their treatments, patients at Tunnell Cancer Center, part of Beebe Healthcare, ring a bell. But, as the Millville resident discovered, the symbolic gesture is not the end of a patient’s fight. It is the beginning of a new one.

“I just wanted to jump back into life,” she says. “I wanted everyone to know that I’m super and strong — ‘I’ve got this’ — but I didn’t. There was fatigue, depression.”
Welling is one of the many coastal residents who’ve learned that life after cancer treatment — or with continuing treatments for an advanced cancer diagnosis — is a challenge. “Many people struggle more after treatment than they do during treatment,” says Kathy Cook, a nurse and a breast health nurse navigator at Beebe. “During treatment, they’re just trying to go through the paces and make their appointments — they’re not giving themselves the opportunity to think about things.”
When treatment is complete, many face a new body and a new mindset. They also no longer have the steady support system of doctors and nurses who saw them through the crisis period. And personal relationships may change. Then there is the persistent fear: Will the cancer return?

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