Almost 45,000 people will develop cancer every year in Ireland – a figure which equates to a cancer diagnosis every three minutes. And the fact that current studies indicate that one in two of us will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in our lifetime, is a stark realisation indeed.
But while in the not-too-distant past, being told you had cancer was the very worst news imaginable, these days, thanks to great strides in medical research and treatments, more and more people are living longer both after, and with cancer.
Recent research has shown that the five-year survival rate for cancer patients from 2012-2016 was 63% for men and 61% for women, compared to 39% and 46% in the period from 1994 to 1999 – and these figures are improving all the time.
Of course, survival rates vary hugely across different types of cancer, but they have increased across all forms of the disease – and although cancer incidence will continue to rise due to an ageing and growing population, improvement in survival rates looks likely to continue.
And while new treatments have added to the increased survival rates, early detection and lifestyle can also have a huge bearing. In fact, you can cut your risk of cancer by 30 to 50% by making some simple changes to your diet and lifestyle.
Experts agree that by giving up smoking, cutting down on alcohol intake, being physically active, avoiding being out in direct sunlight, following a healthy diet and attending cancer screening appointments, four out of ten cancers can be prevented. Also, by adopting a healthier lifestyle, those who have survived cancer can hope to live longer lives.
According to Helen Forristal, Director of Nursing Services with the Marie Keating Foundation, there are currently over 180,000 people in Ireland who have survived cancer, with survival rates for particular forms of cancer having increased greatly in recent years – for example the survival rate for thyroid, prostate and testicular cancers is over 90%, while the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is now over 80%.
“This is very heartening and gives great hope to people going through cancer treatment at the moment,” she says.
But while physical recovery is crucial to survival, many cancer patients can feel totally overwhelmed by what they have just been through and are in need of help and support to cope with their own physical, psychological, social and emotional needs – to help them to live their best lives.
“We have to acknowledge that surviving cancer comes with its own unique challenges – and survivors can struggle with learning to cope with the ‘new normal.’,” says Forristal. “Everyone will have their own personal experiences and responses but by coming together and by getting some expert advice, this adjustment can be made a lot easier, and we are looking forward to helping people who have been through cancer treatment not only to survive but also to thrive.”
This is where the Marie Keating Foundation SurviveandThrive.ie website comes in useful. It was designed to be a repository for all things cancer survivorship. From support on how to cope with life changes once treatment ends like fatigue, anxiety and physical changes, to resource on how to look after your mental health and help for the financial impact of cancer. All information is free and available to cancer survivors and their families today at www.surviveandthrive.ie
The workshops and seminars were created specifically to deal with the emotional aftermath of cancer and help people to come to terms with their new reality and live their best lives despite what they have been through or what they continue to go through.
Trained facilitators are on hand to provide much needed information and support while fellow cancer survivors provide the feeling of solidarity which can be vital at a time when many feel isolated and alone. The group environment can be very beneficial to survivors as although family and friends may offer unconditional support, sometimes and most often a shared experience can be a great comfort and is understood
The eight week, online Survive&Thrive programme is another resource available to those that have come out the other side of cancer treatment. The first week is known as the zero session and this is where participants get to say hello and feel comfortable in this new space. The next six weeks are full of shared experiences through workshops, discussion and interactions which are empowering and create a space for transition and change. The programmes, which range from men or women only to mixed groups, were created to help people who have been through a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, to adapt to ‘a different life after cancer” and to address issues such as fatigue, coping with exhaustion, managing stress, dealing with a roller coaster of emotions, and developing a healthy and manageable exercise and diet routine.
Talking to others who have been through a similar experience has proven to be a vital step on the road to emotional and mental recovery, while that grounded information, support and shared experience that survivors receive and give is a positive approach to long-term healing and lasting change.
In addition to Survive and Thrive, The Marie Keating Foundation also offers a monthly Positive Living Programme, which is designed to help men and women who have metastatic cancer to come to terms with their diagnosis and to again help them to live their best lives. With facilitators and specialists available to provide support and information, participants can also benefit from meeting others in a safe place with shared experiences.
Communication is key when it comes to dealing with emotions and aside from the Survive and Thrive and Positive Living programmes, there are also cancer support groups all across the country, offering a listening ear and plenty of information and advice to cancer patients, survivors, those living with cancer and also to the carers and loved ones of those who have been affected by the disease.
To register your interest for the next Survive and Thrive or Positive Living course click here.
For more information and resources on life after cancer in Ireland, visit our sister website www.surviveandthrive.ie