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The Journey Forward After Cancer

Survivorship Care Plans Engage Patients in Their Own Health

Basically, a survivorship care plan is a map of where you’re going from here and what you’re going to do to get there,” said Robin, who lives on a small farm in Valley Lee in St. Mary’s County and welcomed her first grandson earlier this year. The 58-yearold mother of two is a breast cancer survivor.

Robin (last name withheld for privacy) received her survivorship care plan when she completed her treatment at CalvertHealth Medical Center (CHMC) in November. “It’s helpful to be able to refer to that before you make a call or an appointment,” she said. “It helps me make sure I’m staying on track.”

One of the things she appreciates most about the survivorship care plan is how it is tailored to her specific situation and her specific needs. “To have it in black and white and to be able to hold it in my hand,” she said, “that’s a very big deal to me.”

‘It Makes Me More Aware’

She went on to add, “I feel it makes me more aware of what I need to pay attention to and what the next steps are.

“I think having the plan helps you move forward,” said Robin. “It puts it all in perspective and makes you feel – I can do this. I like to call it: transitioning into my new normal.”

Living on a farm, Robin said she has always eaten lots of fresh produce in season and gotten plenty of exercise. Today, meditation is also helping her to be more mindful. “I’m taking time out to breathe,” she said. “I have this bracelet I wear that says: ‘Let not your heart be troubled. Be not afraid. Be still.’ I like to say it out loud to remind myself.”

‘It’s a Living Program’

According to Dr. Arati Patel, board-certified medical oncologist with CalvertHealth Hematology & Oncology, survivorship care plans came into mainstream use in 2006. “The Institute of Medicine recognized the growing number of people surviving cancer and wanted to implement an approach to effectively address prevention, surveillance and coordination among the providers.”

Today, there are an estimated 14 million cancer survivors in the United States – men and women of all ages that have received various treatments for different types of cancer. “To address the unique needs of our cancer survivors requires a highly coordinated group of skilled individuals working directly with our patients and loved ones,” said Dr. Patel.

“The care plan represents a living program for them, customized to meet their individual needs,” she said. “For example, a breast cancer survivor might be told to get 30 minutes of exercise five days a week.”

According to Dr. Patel, survivorship care plans are endorsed by all the major oncology groups including the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer, the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of leading cancer centers devoted to patient care, research and education.

‘You Feel More In Charge’

“Having the survivorship care plan to look at or to refer back to makes you feel more in charge of what’s really going on and not so lost in the process,” said Jennifer Rowland, an 8th grade math teacher from Charles County. The 39-year-old mother of one is a head and neck cancer survivor.

She had three rounds of chemotherapy at CHMC and seven weeks of radiation therapy at Chesapeake Potomac Regional Cancer Center (CPRCC) in Waldorf to destroy the tumor found in her right tonsil. “When you’re going through treatment, it’s kind of overwhelming with so much information coming at you. It’s a lot to absorb,” said Rowland.

“The survivorship plan lays it all out for you in a way you can understand,” she added. “It’s nice to have it all right there in one place. And I can share it with my family members and we can all understand what the plan is from here on out. You know what you need to do and what’s best.”

‘I’m Listening to Myself’

“Dr. Patel helped me see I need to focus on taking care of me,” said Rowland. “The (survivorship care) plan has made me more mindful of my body and not putting things off … I really need to think of me and what does my body need.”

She went on to add, “As a mom, you get caught up taking care of everybody else. I’ve learned how to ask for help and to let things go.”

When she completed her treatment in December and was declared disease-free, Rowland said she asked her husband for one thing. “I told him I wanted us to go back to The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan … we had our honeymoon there and I wanted us to go as a family.”

In July, Rowland and her husband, Jim, and their three year- old son, John, dressed up for a fancy five-course dinner. (See photo above) “It was a big night for us and a great way to celebrate.”


Survivorship care plans are an integral part of a cancer survivor’s follow-up care. Each plan is created by the oncology team and includes a detailed summary of the patient’s treatment, cancer diagnosis and stage, therapies received such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, a schedule for surveillance testing to monitor for recurrence and contact information for all providers.

The care plan includes specific healthy lifestyle strategies such as nutrition, physical fitness and stress reduction. In addition, there are recommendations to address side effects that can occur as a result of the various treatments such as fatigue, neuropathy, lymphedema and memory loss.

“A survivorship care plan is very patient-focused,” said board-certified medical oncologist Dr. Arati Patel. “It is a systematic approach that can have a tremendous positive impact on a cancer survivor’s quality of life. Additionally, any provider that cares for this individual can refer back to their survivorship care plan for information and recommendations.”

She went on to add, “Most importantly, the survivorship care plan engages the patient in their own health. It helps them understand their disease, recognize what their future risks are and guides them on how they can help themselves.”
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