After being cancer-free for six years, Penny Stollery recently hiked from the edge of Gatlinburg to Mount LeConte with friends to mark the end of five years of hormonal therapy. But as she stood on the mountain, the oncology nurse practitioner says she recognized that life after cancer is its own battle — and one that is seldom discussed.
“There is so much focus once you are diagnosed with cancer, and rightly so, on what do we need do to increase your odds of not having to deal with this again or having a longer life expectancy without ruining quality of life that we don’t think about what we’re doing after the active treatment — the surgeries, the radiation, the chemotherapy,” Stollery explains.
This lack of focus on what she calls, “life after the big C” was the driving force behind why Stollery will be giving a talk about cancer survivorship this Saturday, Nov. 9 at 10 a.m. at the First Christian Church in Black Mountain.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, Stollery says that she had a unique cancer experience due to her job as an oncology nurse at Cancer Care of WNC, where she heads the Survivor’s Clinic of Cancer Care. In this role, she talks with patients who are newly diagnosed with cancer to help them prepare for treatment and then speak with them after they complete their treatment.
However, she shares, even though she works with people on a daily basis with managing their new life after cancer, she had a difficult time herself after treatment ended.
“It was about two-and-a-half or 3 years after treatment when one day I just found myself crying in the hall to my nurse practitioner that I didn’t know what was wrong with me,” she reveals. “I was so depressed and no reason to be depressed and if it did come back i just couldn’t separate it even with my background, experience and knowledge.”
Some of the challenges that arise after cancer treatment, Stollery says, include weight gain or loss, insomnia, depression and anxiety.
“The more distance you get from diagnosis, that anxiety tends to minimize. But, I have met many people who it hasn’t. They are out there trying to deal the best they can when there’s really good biofeedback and counseling services. There are things out there to make quality of life better, but sometimes you just don’t know that they’re out there,” she states.
And in addition to knowing what resources exists, Stollery says it’s important to realize just how many strides have been made in the cancer field and not to give up hope.
“I’m very hopeful. Certainly cancer is a huge illness, but there is so much that is becoming available. Ive seen it chagne, Sometimes when I have those challenging weeks when I don’t have good outcomes, I remember where we started, where we are now and all of the potential for the future,” she continues, “What I have seen and what I would hope for not only myself but for everyone who’s had the experience of cancer —regardless of whether it was an intent to cure or living with cancer as chronic disease — is that you really can reevaluate what is important to you and your priorities and you can have a good , healthy happy life.”
The cancer survivorship event will take place Saturday, Nov. 9 at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at 201 Blue Ridge Road in Black Mountain. The event is free and open to the public. Light snacks will be provided.