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Dr. Donegan Discusses Cancer Survivorship

May 14, 2018
Empowering cancer survivors

Dr. Robert Donegan, medical oncologist at GBMC’s Sandra & Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute, has been working with cancer patients for 21 years. He recently shared his perspective on his patient’s lives as cancer survivors — the physical and emotional side effects of being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment, what they can do to improve their health during and after treatment, and proactive ways they can feel empowered on their path of survivorship.

Because of advances in cancer detection and treatment, there are about 15 million survivors in the U.S. today. That number is projected to grow to 20 million by 2026. “Cancer survivors fall into three phases of survivorship,” explained Dr. Donegan. “The acute phase is when the cancer is newly discovered and you find yourself part of a group you never wanted to belong to. Then you move into active treatment, and finally aftercare. Cancer survivors live with a lot of different ‘side effects’ — from fear of recurrence to physical symptoms from the cancer itself or as a result of treatment. But so many people are living longer and better after a cancer diagnosis and there are a wide variety of resources to support them, physically and emotionally.”

Dr. Donegan also talked about the importance of making sure the caregivers of cancer survivors are taking care of themselves and making connections with other people in the same situation. “You feel like you’re alone on an island. Your friends don’t understand. But there are great resources for caregivers, including Hopewell Cancer Support in Baltimore County, which provides support groups and other resources for survivors and caregivers,” he noted.

He also discussed the importance of a healthy lifestyle, which can lower the risk of some types of cancer and help you tolerate treatment better. “I can’t emphasize the value and importance of making healthy lifestyle decisions enough,” Dr. Donegan stressed. “We know that regular vigorous exercise lowers the risk of breast cancer recurrence, for example, and that a healthy diet and weight also play a role.” Asked whether holistic medicine has a role to play in cancer survivorship, he added, “Patients have ownership of their cancer experience and there are so many tools that can enhance their life and their ability to cope. It’s important for survivors to feel empowered.”

Watch the entire series:

Part 1 — Dr. Robert Donegan, MD, Medical Oncology

Part 2 — Brandon Costantino, Oncology Support Services at GBMC

Part 3 — Barbara Pisano Messing, The Milton J. Dance, Jr. Head & Neck Center, Johns Hopkins Head & Neck Surgery located at GBMC, and the Voice Center located at GBMC

Part 4 — Beth Nardone, Co-Chair of the Oncology Patient & Family Advisory Council and Cancer Survivor
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