The moment a person receives a breast cancer diagnosis, his or her life changes immeasurably. The roller coaster of emotions begins, and suddenly this person is thrust into a schedule of doctor's appointments, treatments and visits from friends and family.
The World Cancer Research Fund International says breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women and men and is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women in 140 of 184 countries worldwide. Despite that prevalence, the five-year relative survival rate for women diagnosed with localized breast cancer (cancer that has not spread to the lymph nodes or outside the breast) is 98.5%, says the American Cancer Society. Survival odds increase as more is learned about breast cancer and more people take preventative measures, including routine screenings. Today, there are nearly three million breast cancer survivors living in the United States.
Breast cancer treatments may last anywhere from six months to a year. Adjusting after treatment may not come so easily at first. But adjustments are easier with time, and many cancer survivors continue to live life to the fullest in much the same way they did prior to their diagnosis.
When treatment ends, patients often still have fears about the cancer, wondering if all of the cancerous cells have been destroyed and worrying about recurrence. But focusing on the present and all of the things you now can do with health on your side is a great way to put your fears behind you.
Many cancer survivors must still visit their doctors after treatments end. Doctors still want to monitor patients closely, so be sure to go to all follow-up appointments and discuss any symptoms or feelings you may be having. Side effects may continue long after radiation or chemotherapy has ended. Your doctor may have suggestions for coping with certain side effects or will be able to prescribe medications to offset these effects. Follow-up appointments should gradually decrease the longer you have been cancer-free.
It's not uncommon to feel differently after cancer treatment, as your body has been through quite a lot. Many women still experience fatigue, and sleep or normal rest doesn't seem to make it abate. Realize this is normal, and how long it will last differs from person to person. It can take months or years for you to experience your "new normal." Things do not happen overnight. While your hair may grow back quickly, it may take some time for you to feel like yourself again. Exercise routines or other lifestyle changes may help you overcome fatigue or make it more manageable.
Speaking with others who have survived breast cancer can help. Join a support group or reach out to others through social media. Getting a first-hand account of what can be expected the first year after treatment can assuage anxiety.