Out in the Open

Surviving cancer can be just as hard as having it

Geoff Eaton has had cancer twice. He wants more people to realize that the fight against cancer continues long after you’ve survived the disease.
Geoff Eaton is the founder and Executive Director of the organization Young Adult Cancer Canada. (Courtesy of Geoff Eaton)

Geoff Eaton has survived cancer twice. At 22-years-old, he was first diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

As a hockey fan, Geoff says he was surprised at how well hockey as a metaphor fit his cancer experience.

"The part that I found particularly jarring was in the years after cancer treatment was over. And just like the hockey game, when the hockey game is over, the stands clear out. And, that's very much what happens to cancer patients. When their treatment ends and they hit that milestone...the vast majority of people will eventually fade away. So, that patient, they're really left then to figure it out on their own…"

For Geoff and for others diagnosed with cancer, surviving treatment and 'escaping' the immediacy of the disease doesn't mean the struggle is over.

Post treatment, many cancer survivors have to deal with things like the long-term physical effects of their care, the financial hit of being out of the workforce for so long, the social isolation, and, often, the emotional toll of going through a near death experience.

Geoff says the emotional aspects were particularly difficult. He ended up starting an organization for young people diagnosed with cancer, partly as a way to process what he was going through with people who might understand. 

"It was unexpected for me to have to deal with the issues of isolation and the fear and the anger six months, three years and many, many years after my treatment had ended. No one had prepared me for that," says Geoff.

He wants everyone to know that the fight isn't over just because cancer treatment has ended.

"[W]hen you discover your friend has been diagnosed...with cancer I need you to understand...their holistic recovery...that's going to take way longer than it does for them to have surgery, radiation and chemo, or whatever their treatment is. And, I want everyone's expectations to adjust to that reality right away.

This story originally aired on January 14, 2018.  It appears in the Out in the Open episode "After Escape".