“I’m finished with treatment…What's now?”
Being diagnosed with breast cancer affects every aspect of your life and just because you finished treatment doesn’t mean you will necessarily be able to jump right back to your normal routine. It is not uncommon for breast cancer survivors to experience a myriad of emotions after completing treatment. There are several quality of life issues that breast cancer patient have to deal with. The following are some common topics concerning life after treatment.
How will I be followed after treatment?
Your follow up after breast cancer may vary, but breast cancer survivors usually return to the doctor every 3 to 6 months during the first few years after treatment, then once or twice a year after that. At these visits, your doctor will look for side effects from treatment and check if your cancer has returned (recurred) or spread (metastasized). It is very important for you to go to your after treatment appointments.
Is it normal to have memory loss after treatment?
“Chemo brain” is not uncommon after treatment. People complain of trouble with concentration, memory, and multi-tasking. Symptoms may last one to two years after treatment or longer. Over time most people report that symptoms go away. Unfortunately, medications used to treatment can worsen the symptoms as well as stress, anxiety, and depression. At this time the effects on memory and concentration is not well understood and more research is necessary.
What can I do to minimize my risk of breast cancer returning?
How do I cope with stress?
It is important not to forget about your emotional, psychological and spiritual health during and after treatment for breast cancer. Stress reduction plays an important part in getting through breast cancer treatment and your recovery.
Will my arm (s) swell?
Lymphedema can occur after lymph nodes are removed at the time of surgery (mastectomy or lumpectomy). It can also occur after radiation. It is the collection of lymph fluid into the arm, chest, or fingers. This can lead to significant arm swelling. Unfortunately there is not cure for lymphedema but thankfully, most breast cancer patients do not experience lymphedema after surgery or radiation. Traditionally, an axillary node dissection was considered routine, now surgeons perform a sentinel node biopsy that removes fewer lymph nodes.
Factors Increasing Lymphedema:
If you experience ANY of the following, you should contact your doctor immediately:
Is it normal to feel that your relationships have changed post diagnosis?
It is not unusual for your relationships with your family and friends to change after having a breast cancer diagnosis. It is normal to notice changes in the way you relate to your family, friends, and co-workers. There will be changes in the way they relate to you as well.
When treatment ends, your family, your friends, and other people who are around you may not be prepared for the fact that recovery takes time. In fact, many breast cancer survivors do not realize that recovery will take much longer than your treatment did. This may lead to frustration or disappointment for everyone involved. Relationships with family members and friends change permanently as a result of a breast cancer diagnosis.
Helpful Tips From The National Cancer Institute
When am I considered a survivor?
It is our opinion that the term “cancer survivor” includes anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, from the time of diagnosis through the rest of his or her life. The word “survivor” helps many people think about embracing their lives beyond their illness. Family members, friends, and caregivers are also part of the survivorship experience.
I was diagnosed at a young age with breast cancer. Will I ever be able to have children?
Receiving treatment for breast cancer will have an impact on your fertility. The effects may be permanent or temporary. Women over the age of 40 are more likely to permanently lose their fertility because their fertility has already begun to decline. Unfortunately, though, there is no way to know in advance just how breast cancer treatment will affect your fertility.
Chemotherapy can impact fertility as well as the anti-estrogen medicine that may be given to you by your doctor. This is a hormone blocker that helps prevent breast cancer from developing again and is given for five years. This medicine may cause symptoms that are similar to menopause that include hot flashes and period cessation. It you are given this anti-estrogen medication, it is recommended that you do not get pregnant while taking this.
Although five years is a long time to put off having children, this is recommended because there is less chance of cancer returning the longer you wait. It is generally recommended that women wait at least two years before they start trying to conceive.
The American Cancer Society says, “Despite concerns that pregnancy could cause cancer to return, studies to date have not shown this to be true for any type of cancer.” Most breast cancer survivors who wish to have children after treatment worry about the pregnancy’s hormonal changes causing a recurrence. Studies have shown no difference in survival rates for women with or without post-treatment pregnancies. Speak with your health-care team about your concerns regarding your fertility before you begin treatment. Remember to NEVER discontinue any breast treatment without your doctor’s approval first. For more information visit the Fertile Hope initiative dedicated to providing reproductive information, support and hope to cancer patients and survivors whose medical treatments present the risk of infertility.