Recovering from breast cancer: What next?

When a woman is undergoing breast cancer therapies, she is usually focused on dealing with side effects and just getting through the treatment process. But once treatment ends, she may find herself overwhelmed with questions and concerns about the future.

Knowing what to expect during recovery may help with the transition.
Physical health

Women who have been treated for breast cancer will continue to see their oncologists (cancer physicians) on a regular basis — initially every three to six months.

It is important to keep these appointments so that your physician can monitor your health closely. Sometimes there are lingering or even new side effects associated with breast cancer treatment, such as skin that is red and sore from radiation, or lymphedema — the build-up of fluid that results in swelling of the arm and hand. (If axillary lymph nodes were radiated or removed during surgery, lymphedema may occur anytime during or even years after treatment.)

It’s important not only to be aware of common side effects, but to share any questions or concerns with your physician so that issues can be resolved as quickly as possible.

Following cancer treatment, women often report ongoing fatigue, extreme tiredness and exhaustion that doesn’t go away with rest. You will need to listen to your body and balance activity with relaxation. Often women find they can slowly build up their stamina through an exercise routine. This may initially involve short walks and progress to more rigorous activity. Though exercising may be your last concern, it will help you to feel better physically, emotionally and psychologically. Just start out slowly and build your stamina gradually.
Emotional and psychological health

Breast cancer not only affects a woman’s physical health, but also her emotional, psychological and spiritual health and that of her family and friends.

Many women find it hard not to worry about the cancer coming back. This is a very common concern, and it may take some time for those fears to lesson. If you have not joined a support group — either in person or online — this is an ideal time to form that relationship. Dealing with cancer can be a lonely experience, and the benefits of being able to share concerns, questions and experiences with others who can relate to your situation cannot be overstated.

Your relationship with your spouse or significant other, as well as family and friends, may have changed or may still be evolving. Recognize that this is a common occurrence for individuals dealing with a variety of traumatic experiences, and give yourself and members of your support system time to adjust. Most importantly, don’t hesitate to seek help from your physician, a counselor, a pastor and other professionals who may have resources for you.

The American Cancer Society website has a wealth of information and links to resources. If you haven’t visited the ACS site (www.cancer.org), it is a great place to begin your recovery journey.

During the month of October, CRMC is encouraging women to schedule their mammogram by making calls to women who are overdue for their mammograms to remind them that it is time for this important screening. Women will be able to make appointments at the time of the call at convenient hours and locations to meet their needs. Why wait for a phone call? If you haven’t scheduled your mammogram, please consult your care provider or call us at 717-245-5244

Carlisle Regional Medical Center raised over $20,000 in 2014 in support of Relay for Life, the PA Breast Cancer Coalition and Making Strides.

Julia Blum M.D. is a Pennsylvania native. After graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor of science in engineering from the University of Pittsburgh she attended Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She completed her residency at Johns Hopkins University and is board certified in Radiation Oncology. She has been practicing in the central Pennsylvania region for the past 14 years and is pleased to join the Carlisle Regional Cancer Center providing comprehensive treatments.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This is the last article in a three-part series written to help women understand more about this disease. Previous articles focused on early detection of breast cancer and treatment options.

Disclaimer: Remember that this information is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor, but rather to increase awareness and help equip patients with information and facilitate conversations with your physician that will benefit your health.