After Treatment, Figuring Out My New Healthcare Routine

After completing my chemotherapy, I was uncertain as to who I should see for routine health care. Routine healthcare includes annual checkups, medical tests, immunizations, and occasional sick visits. My oncology healthcare provider developed a survivorship care plan, which spelled out my cancer diagnosis treatment and frequency of follow-up. This information was provided to my primary care provider.

My shared care approach

I found that a shared care approach in which I would regularly see both my oncologist and primary care doctor to be beneficial for me. My oncologist is seen for my scheduled checkups related to my cancer, evaluation of any side effects of treatment, any new symptoms or concerns, and scheduled diagnostics such as my annual CT scan.

My primary care physician provides preventive care including vaccinations such as influenza and pneumonia vaccine since my immune system may be impacted by my cancer, blood pressure and heart rate monitoring, diabetes and cholesterol tests, and refers me for screening for other cancers based on my age and risk. This may include mammography to detect breast cancer and referral for a colonoscopy as indicated to detect colon cancer. Minor illnesses, like a cold, or some injuries may be able to be handled by my primary provider.

The literature reports that primary care physicians may lose touch with patients while they are receiving cancer treatment.1 To avoid this, I have asked that my oncologist send reports and any major findings to my primary care physician so that he is engaged and up to date with my progress. This helps to minimize any confusion or miscommunication as I see my healthcare team throughout the year.1

Tired of doctor's appointments, but keeping my health in check

While cancer survivors may not look forward to seeing additional healthcare providers, it is important to evaluate dental and eye health. As a result of my treatment, I experienced dry eye and dry mouth, each of which required intervention. My dentist educated me about the importance of scheduled dental checks as dry mouth could predispose to dental cavities. In my case, I required a root canal. I also experienced painful eyes after doing computer work. My ophthalmologist recognized this because of my treatments and prescribed an appropriate eye medication.

At times as a cancer survivor, I am tired of physician appointments. However, we must consider health maintenance as a priority. Seeing a dermatologist for an annual skin check may be a consideration. I have enjoyed the beach and sun for my entire life. As a result, I have had basal cell cancer on my face several times. Now, in addition to my oncologist, and primary care physician, I include a visit to a dentist, ophthalmologist, and a dermatologist.

After a cancer diagnosis, a patient’s healthcare team widens. It is most important that routine health care is provided, and communication of patient progress and status be shared with all caregivers.

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