If you have finished treatment for breast cancer, you should be ecstatic to consider yourself a survivor. Unfortunately, however, there may be certain scars left from your experience: both emotionally and physically. The good news is that there are over 2 million women in the United States who have survived breast cancer and have been through the same experiences and fears as you may be experiencing. Some even have a more positive outlook on life after battling the disease.
Still Dealing with Side Effects
As if your body and mind have not been through enough, there are new side effects from treatment which need to be realized and dealt with by breast cancer survivors. One of those side effects is early menopause. Chemotherapy, tamoxifen (a treatment drug), and radiation are primarily to blame for this physical and psychological side effect. Menstrual cycles can become irregular or cease completely. Hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and weight gain may accompany early menopause but all are manageable after initially getting used to them.
One of the most troubling side effects for young women especially is infertility. This may occur due to the early menopause symptoms or simply because the effects of chemotherapy have caused infertility. If you are one of these women, you may want to find a support group to help you deal with the feelings of anger and loss you may be experiencing. But you should also know that there might be other options for you. Some women freeze their embryos before treatment for this reason but it is costly and not 100% effective. Also, while you may have ruled out adoption in the past, you may want to reconsider it, as many women cannot imagine their lives without their adopted children. Also, you may want to obtain a second opinion if there is some uncertainty as to your infertility.
Risk of Recurrence
Your celebratory state may come and go as you realize the risk of breast cancer returning. The threat of recurrence may loom overhead like a storm cloud waiting to erupt. Minor aches and pains may be driving you crazy as you wonder, “Could that be the cancer returning?” You can deal with these feelings and concerns by carrying a metaphorical umbrella over your head at all times. This umbrella comes in the form of regular follow-up visits with your doctor, support of other survivors, a healthy attitude, and a healthy lifestyle.
You may want to pretend that the cancer never occurred, close that chapter in your life, and move on. If you are able to do that successfully, that is great. But do not live in denial. Denying the risk of cancer returning can be a costly mistake. It is very important to conduct breast self-exams and go to your follow-up visits although you may find it an unpleasant reminder of what you have been through.
Maintaining Your Healthy State
Now that you are healthy, you need to stay that way, mentally and physically. It is amazing what the power of the mind can do. And a positive attitude can help you tackle the challenges of being a survivor. Some people look to yoga and meditation to strengthen the mind-body connection and help build strength from within. If this is not your thing, take care of yourself the way that only you know how.
Some survivors adhere to a very strict diet, using everything in their power to avoid recurrence. It is still important to enjoy your life, however. So if indulging once in a while makes you feel good, it may be okay to do so. For the most part, however, diets consisting of nutrients which help strengthen the cells within your body are advised. Always seek the advice of your doctor regarding changes to your diet as they can make recommendations or refer you to a nutritionist familiar with the needs of cancer survivors.
Intimacy After Treatment
A healthy sex life was probably last on the list of concerns you faced during treatment for breast cancer. The truth of the matter is that intimacy in some form is important for our relationships with significant others. Certain side effects of treatment may get in the way of this intimacy. Cancer treatments can cause a decrease in your desire to be intimate, hot flashes, and dryness. Adding to those side effects are weight gain and depression which can make you feel undesirable. Many survivors say that these symptoms lessen with time.
The big elephant in the room is the mastectomy issue. Breasts have long been a sex symbol. With the loss of a breast comes the loss of feeling desirable to many women. The fact may be, however, that your partner loves you just the same now or even more than they did before because they appreciate you more. Try your best to hang up these insecurities.
You may be a strong, independent woman who thinks you can take on the world now that you have conquered breast cancer. Do not rule out the importance of a support group, however. You do not have to talk if sharing is not your cup of tea. But listening to other people may help in times of weakness.
There are wide array of support groups available throughout the United States. Some include:
- American Cancer Society
- Cancer Survivors Network
- Look Good…Feel Better
Being a breast cancer survivor is a title you should brag about freely. Now that you have been given a second chance at life, it is up to you the way you handle it. With a variety of obstacles that still stand in your way even after treatment, it may be difficult to appreciate your new life, but there are many tools and resources at your fingertips for use when you need a little help.