Transitioning Back to Wellness After Breast Cancer Treatment
David Gruen, MD, MBA, Director of Women’s Imaging & Co-Director, Breast Center and Helen Pass, MD, Director of Breast Surgery and Co-Director, Breast Center
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You’ve just completed your breast cancer treatment—congratulations on arriving at this step! You’re most likely processing an intense range of emotions: happy that active treatment is over, physically and mentally exhausted from all you have been through, concerned about finishing treatment and transitioning to surveillance, and anxious to start feeling well and whole again. You’re probably asking yourself, “When I will be back to my usual self?”
The following tips can help you navigate through the roller coaster of emotions that are common after treatment.
Feel the feelings.
There will be times when you’ll feel on top of the world and be inspired to share your own strength with others who have had breast cancer. Go ahead! Share your story with a friend or co-worker, comment on or start a blog, wear your pink clothes proudly. However, there will also be times when you want privacy and a chance to be someone other than a woman who had or has breast cancer. That’s OK, too. You do not need to champion every breast cancer cause.
Remember, just because you have completed treatment does not mean you are done healing, or have fully recovered.
In fact, you have just started the recovery process. Treatment is not just emotionally draining, but it is physically grueling as well. One rule of thumb is that it will take as long for you to recover as you have been under care. It is important to share this information with your family, friends and possibly even your co-workers. Too often, they think since treatment is done, you should be back to your old self.
Those who mind don’t matter.
And those who matter don’t mind. This saying exists for a reason. Even the best-intentioned people may make comments or give you advice that comes across as callous or hurtful. They may even go so far as to ask you what’s taking so long. It’s your right to detach from any negative energy and seek out experiences that enrich your life instead.
Rest, but fight fatigue.
Fatigue from cancer treatment affects everyone differently. Sometimes, no amount of “deep sleep” seems to make a difference. In fact, some studies have shown that walk or other exercise does more to fight cancer-treatment-related fatigue than taking a nap. Small lifestyle changes can also help. Some examples include planning activities during your best time of day, creating a realistic “to do” list to help manage your mind’s expectations, saying “no, thanks” to certain chores or obligations in order to save energy for more personally rewarding endeavors, and finally letting and even asking others for help when possible. Your oncologist can go into further detail at your follow-up appointments.
“Me time” may not be high on your list of priorities; however, we can’t stress enough the importance of making and taking time for yourself… without feeling guilty or ashamed. A hot bath, long walk, quiet spot to read or even a bigger treat such as a massage can go a long way.
Finally, realize you are just at the beginning of the road to recovery.
Acknowledge that it will take time to feel better. Learn to prioritize differently; choose to save your energy for what is more meaningful. Ask about options for improving lingering physical symptoms.
You’ll still have good and bad days, but one “bad day” is just that…one bad day. Resolve to make the next better. Remember, the goal is for you to thrive, not just survive!
Inspired by the following sources: