Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Life After Treatment

Woman who survived breast cancer exercising

In January 2019, there were over 3.1 million women in the United States who were undergoing treatment for breast cancer or who had already finished treatment. In our series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we have already discussed breast cancer prevention and what women can do to lower their likelihood of developing breast cancer. However, it is also crucial to discuss life after breast cancer. Breast cancer affects many women every year and recovery can be a tough and stressful time. Here are our steps for taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional health during your recovery:

Staying Healthy as a Breast Cancer Survivor:

Stay Active & Maintain a Healthy Weight

Physical activity after treatment is beneficial in regaining muscle strength; fighting fatigue; and improving stamina, balance, and mood. Women who exercised in recovery were more likely to both live longer and reduce the risk of their cancer returning. Breast cancer patients with lymphedema also saw benefits and improvements to their conditions with exercise. If you are not used to working out, speak with a physical therapist before beginning vigorous exercise.

Obesity is linked to higher rates of breast cancer. If you maintained a healthy weight during treatment, stay active to maintain your weight. If you gained weight or were already obese prior to treatment, talk to a doctor about developing a plan to lose weight. It is important to discuss any weight loss plan with your physician prior to starting it; they can help you navigate your health in conjunction with your recovery from cancer.

Eat a Balanced Diet

No specific diet has been proven to better aid in breast cancer recovery and lower risks of cancer returning, but a general pattern of healthy eating has been linked to a lower risk of recurring cancer. Breast cancer survivors who eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats tend to live longer than breast cancer survivors whose diets consist of foods high in fat and processed foods high in sodium and sugar.

No specific vitamins or dietary supplements have been proven to reduce rates of breast cancer. This does not mean that all vitamins and supplements are useless. Ask your doctor about what vitamins or supplements they recommend for your lifestyle or recovery.

Alcohol can play a large role in initially developing breast cancer. Data is unclear about alcohol’s role in breast cancer survivor’s health, but the American Cancer Society recommends women consume no more than one alcoholic beverage a day.

Attend Regular & Recommended Screenings

During your healing process, it is important to be in regular communication with your doctor and to attend all recommended follow up visits. For regular physician visits, your doctor will want to see you often (once every few months) immediately after your treatment ends. The longer you are cancer free, the longer you can wait between visits.

If you did not receive a mastectomy during treatment, you will need to receive a mammogram every six to twelve months after your treatment ends. After that, you will receive one every year. If you did have a mastectomy, your doctor still may want you to undergo regular mammograms, depending on the type of surgery you had.

Depending on the other types of medication you are taking or treatment you received, your doctor may want you to receive regular pelvic exams or bone density tests. Talk to your care team about your specific recovery and what they would recommend each year.

Watch for Signs of Reoccurrence

If you have fought breast cancer before, it is important to stay alert for any physical signs that the cancer may have returned. Signs include:

  • Headaches, dizziness, seizures, confusion
  • Loss of balance, changes in vision, personality changes
  • Pain that worsens or continues and is not treatable by over the counter medication
  • A lump under the arm or along the chest wall
  • Weight loss, low appetite, vomiting, and nausea
  • Bone or joint swelling or pain

Your breasts will change and feel different as your recovery progresses, but if you have questions about the texture and feeling of your breasts or any other possible cancer symptoms, do not hesitate to discuss them with your primary care physician or an oncologist.

Create A Care Plan & Keep Detailed Records

Talk to your cancer care team to get records of the treatments including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation that you have undergone; the specialists you have seen; and any follow up visits or treatments they recommend. Keeping these records both digitally and physically will ensure you can access them no matter where you are and share them with any future physicians you may visit.

This care plan is meant to provide you with a list of other effects and symptoms you may experience as a result of the treatments you received. It is important to discuss this plan with your oncology team to understand possible side effects and how to cope with them.

Do Not Neglect Your Emotional Health

Finishing treatment and being declared cancer-free is worth celebrating! However, recovery is a long process. Experts and doctors agree that giving yourself time to recover is crucial to regaining your health. This means you and your family will have to make adjustments; you should not expect to jump right back into all of your pre-cancer activities. Build time into your day to intentionally rest.

If you are dealing with other side effects of recovery like forgetfulness and not feeling quite like yourself (often deemed “chemo brain”), do not just attempt to “power through”. Be forgiving to your brain and emotions; set alarms to remind yourself of tasks and reminders and give yourself time to recover.

Find a support group for other people recovering from breast cancer. It is important to be able to be open and share your experience with other people who can empathize.

Need some help with your recovery? Whether you need to schedule an exam or get connected with some other resources to help you on your recovery journey, Capital Women’s Care can help. Reach out to talk to someone on staff.

Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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