Breast Cancer Series

Living as a cancer survivor

CREATED Oct. 5, 2012

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MILWAUKEE -  It is breast cancer awareness month and we are bringing you stories all week long of new ways that women with the diagnosis are trying to fight, beat, and survive breast cancer.  Today, we dig deeper to find out how cancer care is changing as more people survive the disease.

This country is home to 14 million cancer survivors right now.  By 2022 the American Cancer Society estimates the United States will have 18 million survivors.

"It's great that there's increasing numbers of Americans who are cancer survivors and that we're making all this progress against the disease and now we really just need to start addressing some of those longer term issues that previously weren't at the forefront of what you consider cancer care," says Allison Miller, Government Relations Director in Wisconsin for the American Cancer Society's Cancer Care Network. 

Miller deals with public policy and how it impacts cancer patients, "Whether you can get insurance, whether it's affordable, um, whether you're getting quality care, whether you have access to screenings."

Miller says the increase in survivors is changing how insurance companies and the government view their health status.  A new study from the American Cancer Society echoes that concept.  It says that more attention needs to focus on survivor care: the mental, physical, social and financial aspects of living, perhaps decades, after you've beaten the disease. 

She says, "Anybody who's had this disease and beat it, right now is just a pre-existing condition to most insurance plans.  And it's really unfortunate that folks who should be celebrated for surviving this disease could then turn around and be punished for it, simply because they beat cancer."

Miller says the federal healthcare law will help cancer patients when changes happen in 2014.  She gave examples like eliminating pre-existing condition exclusions and lifetime dollar limits for treatment.  Congress is also considering two bills to put more research into what survivors need long term and to treat cancer as a chronic disease similar to heart disease, instead of a one time occurrence.

Colleen Doyle is the Director of Nutrition and Physical Activity for the American Cancer Society.  She says the government can only do so much for survivors, "What you eat, how active you are, can really make a difference in terms of recurrence of cancer...surviving cancer."

Doyle says if survivors commit to being healthier the results are dramatic, "We've seen up to 40% risk reduction in occurrence of breast cancer with maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, and watching, uh, watching your diet."

The bottom line according to Doyle, is that trying to survive cancer has changed.  She says people now have real weapons that they can use and control, and they work.

Doyle says, "Cancer certainly is no longer the death sentence that it has been, uh, many many years ago.  And, and these numbers are just going to continue to grow and that's a really positive thing."