Scientific advances in detection and treatment methods for breast cancer mean that many survivors go on to live full, enjoyable lives after their initial diagnosis.
Thanks to precise treatment methods capable of addressing a wide range of abnormal growths, cancer patients have a better chance than ever of a positive health outcome. However, there are still many hurdles that a cancer patient must overcome in their survivorship journey.
In this article, we discuss some of the challenges commonly faced by cancer survivors, along with ways in which survivors have navigated daily life after finishing their treatments. We hope that this information helps you or your loved one conquer the aftermath of breast cancer treatments and go on to live a long, happy life.
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What Challenges Do Breast Cancer Survivors Frequently Face?
Breast cancer is the second-most common cancer impacting women in the United States. Every year, approximately 264,000 women are diagnosed with a form of breast cancer, second only to the occurance rates of skin cancer.
Although deaths caused by breast cancer have declined significantly over the years, survivors may face a range of physical and mental hurdles on their road to recovery.
Even after a person completes their cancer treatments, they may be burdened by negative emotions. It is entirely normal to experience anxiety, stress, or sadness even after successfully finishing a course of treatments.
Survivors may be stressed about returning to their day-to-day routines, whether that means going back to work, taking care of a family, or resuming school. They may also feel guilt after the loss of family members or close friends who suffered with the same or similar health conditions.
Breast cancer survivors may also experience negative thoughts towards themselves and their body in the aftermath of their treatments. The treatment methods used for breast cancer can cause significant changes to the survivor’s body.
In some cases, one or both breasts may need to be removed to stop the spread of cancerous cells. If a lumpectomy was done, the shape of a person’s breast may have changed as a result. Certain medications can also impact a person’s physical appearance by causing hair loss or weight gain.
Any combination of these physical changes can have a significant impact on a person’s mental health and overall wellbeing.
One of the most common fears that is on the minds of a cancer survivor is the thought that they may find themselves fighting a similar battle in the future. Overall, the risks of recurrent breast cancer tend to be fairly low (between 7 and 11% within the first five years after treatment).
However, it is entirely reasonable that this may be a cause for concern for many survivors. If the initially-affected tissue was removed in its entirety, a survivor might not receive annual screening mammograms.
This can increase a survivor’s worries of an undetected recurrence, even when such an incident is unlikely.
Cancer treatments can cause a considerable number of health issues for survivors. Some of the effects of cancer medications and treatments may last only a short while, while others may have a lifelong impact. Some of the potential health issues a survivor may face include:
- Ongoing fatigue
- Cardiovascular problems
- Sexual dysfunction
- Dermatology issues
- A weakened immune system
- Low bone density
In addition, breast cancer treatments can take a significant mental toll on the people that undergo them. A condition known as chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment can cause survivors to have difficulties remembering details, learning new things, planning, finishing sentences, or multitasking.
In most cases, the worst of these symptoms clear up as time passes and the survivor recovers from their experience.
Battling any form of cancer can be a harrowing and exhausting experience. Even when a cancer goes into remission, it can be a challenge to navigate daily life as a survivor.
Building a flexible support system, enjoying periods of self-reflection, and working with a doctor to create a detailed plan of care may help you enjoy a fulfilling, healthy life as a breast cancer survivor.
As a cancer survivor, it’s important to find a trusted primary care provider that can coordinate any medical treatments or specialist visits you may need. Your doctor will help you overcome survivorship issues, secure appropriate treatments for any health concerns you have, and help you seek specialist care if needed.
Some health networks can help you build a survivorship care plan that includes screening for cancer recurrence or related health conditions.
Many cancer survivors are inspired to live an engaged, healthy lifestyle after they complete their treatments. Eating a balanced diet, exercising on a regular schedule, and getting rid of bad eating habits can help a person feel and stay healthy.
It’s even possible to supplement your diet with foods that give your immune system a boost, which can help you fight off other illnesses.
Studies by the National Cancer Institute show that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of developing colon or breast cancer. Even better news for survivors is data that indicates that the risk of recurrent breast cancer is reduced by physical activity.
Working out can also reduce a person’s stress and put them in a better mood. If you choose to become physically active after going through breast cancer treatments, be sure to ease into your workouts and give yourself grace as you embark on your fitness journey.
Even after a person successfully completes their cancer treatment, their mind and body will still feel the effects of the medications and processes used. It can take a period of weeks, months, or even years for a survivor to feel fully recovered from their experience. Cancer treatments can be quite aggressive and cause significant fatigue and mental drain, along with physical side effects.
The aftermath of breast cancer is something that every survivor will need to grapple with at some point. There is no right or wrong way for a person to come to terms with their survivorship journey.
Some people may choose to support local cancer awareness groups or volunteer opportunities that strengthen the community of survivors, while others may elect to leave all memories of their experience in the past and forge onwards to a brighter future. Whatever path you choose, you will be supported by those that love and care for you.
We hope that this article helps you or your loved one overcome some of the most significant challenges associated with breast cancer survivorship. As challenging as the experience may be, you are never alone on your road to recovery.