Fox Chase Cancer Center's survivor plans help cancer patients through life when active care ends

NORTHEAST PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- With more and more Americans surviving cancer, what happens after active treatment is even more important.

And there are tools to help patients of all types of cancer manage their care as a survivor.

Heather Shanefield of Northeast Philadelphia is one of those who has benefitted.

"I just noticed a lump on my neck. I wasn't sure if it was muscle," Shanefield recalled of that moment several years ago.

The lump wasn't from exercise, but a sign she had Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

Suddenly, at age 26, Heather was headed to Fox Chase Cancer Center for care.

"They supported my grandpop and did awesome with him when I was very, very young," she says of her decision to go to Fox Chase.

For her six months of chemotherapy, the hospital was her second home, and it was where she connected with Charissa Montgomery, a certified registered nurse practitioner who runs a survivor clinic in hematology.

In 2019, there were nearly 17 million cancer survivors in America - that's about 5% of the population.

That number could top 22 million by 2030.

"It's really dedicated to the patient as a whole, making sure, not just that they're feeling well from their cancer treatments, but you know, that they're healthy, they're exercising, they're getting their routine cancer screenings," says Montgomery.

Survivorship care is tailored to the cancer type and starts during the initial treatment.

"Even when I wasn't being seen, I would get a phone call from her, message from her - Hey, I'm checking in," she recalls of Montgomery's care.

Survivorship is essential as follow-ups become less frequent.

"When the scans stop is when a lot of the anxiety comes in. And you know, how do you know that it's not coming back? And it's just the reassurances and keeping in touch," says Montgomery.

On the national side, the American Cancer Society and the CDC have created the National Cancer Survivorship Resource Center.

And ASCO, the Society of Clinical Oncologists, has online care plans to document cancer history for primary care doctors.

That's essential as they assume more of a cancer patient's day-to-day care.

Nearly four years out, and still in remission, Heather is grateful Charissa is still watching out.

"Just keeping that connection is really important to me," she notes.

More than two-thirds of today's survivors were diagnosed five years or more ago, a sign of positive strides in the fight against cancer.

With new treatments plus better use of existing ones, the need for quality after-care will continue to grow.
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