Life after breast cancer

Many women who have experienced breast cancer feel they have new perspective on life once they have finished treatment.  But many also approach this time with a feeling of trepidation. 

You may feel uncomfortable about no longer having regular contact with your medical team.  You may feel anxious and worried about whether the cancer will return.  You may feel worried about the future.

All of these feelings are perfectly normal.  Everyone’s experience is different and your feelings will vary depending on your circumstances.  It’s good to continue to speak with other women who have had breast cancer once your treatment is over.  The emotional and physical impacts do not stop as soon as treatment is finished so it can be good to have this ongoing support.

Follow up

It’s important to have regular mammograms or ultrasounds after breast cancer treatment because you are at greater risk of breast cancer recurring if you’ve already been diagnosed.  Regular follow ups with your doctor also allow him or her to check ongoing hormonal medication you may be on and to monitor any side effects.

You should also practise breast awareness and monitor your own breasts closely for any changes or abnormalities.  If you notice anything, contact your doctor straight away.

You may also like to check out the "follow-up" section of the New Zealand Guidelines on the Management of Early Breast Cancer, which details best-practise follow up options.

Your health

Some of the side effects of breast cancer treatment can be ongoing for many years after treatment is over. Discuss any long-term side effects with your doctor, there may well be steps that can be taken to reduce the impact of these.

Some common side effects include:

  • Lymphoedema
  • Fatigue
  • Menopausal symptoms bought on by hormonal medication
  • Pain

After treatment for breast cancer, many women also want to make lifestyle changes to ensure they stay as healthy as possible.  These include:

  • Dietary changes to maintain a healthy weight such as reducing saturated fat intake and increasing vegetable intake. You might like to read this article on nutrition and breast cancer . 
  • Increasing exercise to help maintain a healthy body weight and physical wellbeing.  Some studies have suggested that moderate exercise can help to reduce the recurrence of cancer.
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Discussing Hormone Replacement Therapy carefully with your doctor if you are considering this medication

You might also like to read this article from Britain’s Daily Mail on breast cancer risk.

Emotional changes

 
Once treatment is over, you are likely to feel a range of emotions.  Elation your treatment programme is finished, nervous about the lack of regular contact with medical staff, fear the cancer may return and nervousness about what the future now holds.

All of these feelings are normal.  Many women find this time difficult because they no longer have to focus on the practicalities of treatment and they have more time to reflect on the experience and what life now holds in store for them.

You may now be a very different person from the one you were before you started treatment.  Friends and family may expect you to be back to your “old self”, but you may struggle to find this person as you grapple with feelings of loss and isolation.  You have been through a life-changing experience so don’t expect to “bounce back” immediately.  Remember to get as much support as you need – whether by talking to friends and family, other women who have experienced breast cancer, or to a professional counsellor if need be.

You may find your relationships change after breast cancer, especially intimate relationships.  Some women struggle with their sexuality after breast cancer treatment.

Click here to read articles exploring some of the issues around sex after breast cancer

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