Surviving Breast Cancer: What happens after treatment?
Survivor story: Hope Beyond
The first time the doctor told me I had breast cancer, it was all I could think of for the next few weeks. Why did it happen? Why me? What will happen next? Then, one night, few weeks later, a thought struck me – “I have heard the worst news I ever could. It is done with. All that can happen from here on will only get better than this.” And better, I got – with medicines, therapy and the love of my family and friends. Everyday I looked forward to fighting this enemy a day at a time. Today, breast cancer is behind me and I look forward to the little joys of life – like attending my daughter’s graduation ceremony next week!
Finding out about Breast Cancer, battling it with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation, and completing the full course of treatment is nothing short of a Life Changing Experience. The physical effects of treatment continue long after the course is through and the whole experience can take a toll on one’s self image. Yes, surviving Breast Cancer is a test in coping with the physical, emotional and lifestyle changes that the survivor undergoes.
Most Breast Cancer Survivors develop a different outlook towards health and wellness after the initial treatment, and while the person may not feel same as before, it is possible to lead a healthy life ahead.
This is a time that is mixed with stress and excitement – excitement from being able to complete treatment, and stress from the worry that the cancer might come back.
A Must To Do – Regular Follow Up
Survivors of Breast Cancer are required to have follow-up visits with their oncologists at regular prescribed intervals. The visits include discussion about any new complaints, physical examination, blood tests, X-ray and USG. PET CT, CT scan, MRI or any other investigation may be done if required by the oncologist. It is also a chance for them to discuss any side effects of treatment.
Bringing in Lifestyle Changes
Having undergone the tryst with breast cancer, most patients begin to relook the impact of their lifestyle on health. However, it is important to not blame one-self for past choices, whether it was less exercise, excess alcohol or smoking. The truth is that making positive changes today will have a positive impact on the rest of the life. Let’s take a look at what these are:
- Eating Healthy – Breast cancer treatment can affect taste and appetite. Women may also lose or gain weight without really changing their diet plan. If it is difficult getting the daily dose of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and limiting processed foods, and/or the loss of taste in food is affecting the diet, the woman can consult with a dietitian to deal with the side effects.
- Resting and Exercise – The feeling of fatigue stays on for a long time after treatment in cancer patients. This can make it difficult to lead an active lifestyle, which otherwise helps cope with recovery. It is important to rest when the body feels tired and take things slowly. After initial rest, the person can start with small exercises like a short walk. Exercise builds stronger muscles and helps fight fatigue.
- Reducing stress – Right from diagnosis to treatment, stress accompanies a Breast Cancer patient at all times. Even post-treatment, a person can feel stressed over the cancer’s return later. It is important to find ways to reduce stress in a manner that suits the person’s lifestyle.
Managing Emotional Health
Dealing with Breast Cancer affects a person emotionally. Soon after diagnosis, the entire focus remains on getting through the treatment course successfully. Now that is done, the person realizes the wider effects of her condition on her family and herself, like concern for other family members and keeping the relationships with friends and family. Journey of battling Cancer and beyond can be a lonely one, and it helps to draw support from family, close friends and even a counselor. Even volunteering to help other Breast Cancer patients deal with their ordeal can be a cathartic exercise.
The most important thing for a Breast Cancer Survivor to know is that the worst is over – the CANCER has been beaten, and it is a time to look forward at all the HEALTH & HAPPINESS life has to offer!
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“Breast Cancer Survivorship Care,” Hopkinsmedicine.org, The Johns Hopkins University, http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/avon_foundation_breast_center/treatments_services/survivor_care/
“Breast Cancer Survivors: Life After the Treatments End,” WebMD.com, http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/guide/life-after-breast-cancer-treatment
“Survivorship: During and After Treatment,” Cancer.org, American Cancer Society, http://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorshipduringandaftertreatment/