November 13, 2009, Newsletter Issue #105: The Breast Cancer Experience: When Treatment Ends

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Ann, a breast cancer survivor, shared that when she was diagnosed in August of 2004, she quickly counted ahead to February, 2005 calculating that surgery, chemotherapy and radiation would take approximately 6 months (per her oncologist). She kept looking forward, believing that life would return to normal in February. Finally, February arrived and she completed her last day of radiation treatment at the oncology clinic . . . but life was far from normal. Even though her last day of chemotherapy was in November, her hair had not grown back. “I felt exhausted,” she said, “and unable to keep up with my small children. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a cancer patient, not a survivor.” Her friends and family were moving on with their lives, but she felt stuck. Not only that, but chemotherapy had been so much more difficult than she imagined that she began to feel anxious about having a recurrence. Would life ever be the same? Ann's feelings are not uncommon. Even breast cancer patients who go into treatment with a positive attitude can come out feeling beat-up, worn-out, alone and anxious. When treatment ends, it's important to keep in mind that even though you're finished with your oncology appointments, your body needs time to regain strength to handle the physical schedule you had before your diagnosis. For some people this will take months, and for others, it may take over a year. Try to ease into an exercise routine, even if it is only walking around the block each day, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Eat a well-balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids. Sleep a good eight hours every night. And also ask for help with your children and other responsibilities. No one will know you need the extra help and time to heal unless you tell them. The breast cancer experience may also take an emotional toll when treatment ends. If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, nightmares, difficulty sleeping or feelings of detachment seek help through your oncologist. If your oncologist can't help you, he or she can refer you to counselors in your local area who are trained in oncology-related issues or support groups where you can discuss your feelings with people who have had similar experiences. Also, talk to your doctor about the benefits of anti-anxiety medications. Don't be hard on yourself for not being able to “move on” immediately when treatment ends. You are not alone. Remember, this is your second chance to make life what you want it to be. Give yourself the time you need to heal both physically and emotionally.

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