Published Saturday, February 3, 2018 10:20PM EST
Charlotte Cook-Dowsett survived ovarian cancer but felt cast adrift when the surgery and chemotherapy ended.
“When you’re going through the treatment, you have this warrior attitude … and you’re surrounded by a community of support,” says the Winnipeg woman.
“But when the cancer is gone and the chemo is done … the community support isn’t as strong because they feel you are done,” she adds.
For Cook-Dowsett, it wasn’t over. Depression and anxiety had set in.
One in two Canadians will experience cancer in their lifetimes. There are 800,000 survivors.
Studies have shown that 80 per cent of survivors report long-term side effects like fatigue and 70 per cent report psychological impacts. About one in five have symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Ahead of World Cancer Day on Sunday, Canadian survivors are highlighting the fact that while the medical system is doing better than at ever at curing cancer, it does a poor job of providing mental health care after they get the all-clear.
Jackie Manthorne, a cancer survivor and president of the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network, says that many patients “feel abandoned when treatment ends.”
“There isn’t one survivor who won’t tell you that they don’t fear recurrence,” she says. “They’re dealing with an illness that they know sometimes kills people.”
Manthorne says cancer can also strain relationships with partners and children.
Yet in most treatment centres don’t offer any follow up for survivors, Manthorne says. “They are off on their own.”
Manthorne says she’d like to see cancer patients receive automatic rehabilitation options, just like when someone survives a heart attack or stroke.
Dr. Mary Gospodarowicz, medical director of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, agrees there is a gap.
“The social support is very important,” she says. “It is one area of cancer that has’t been well funded or well resourced.”
Ottawa mother Charlotte Kessler, 36, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2013 and endured brain surgery and two years of chemotherapy.
Kessler says she didn’t want to lose the support of her oncology team after it was over, but she was given no choice.
She eventually sought new medical treatment. “I need help,” she told them. “No, I don’t know what I need … but I need help.”
“In treatment it was easy to explain away why I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do, why I couldn’t be there for my daughters, why I was feeling terrible,” she says. “Then treatment ends and that doesn’t necessarily go away.”
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip