Living through breast cancer can be a complicated experience, but you don’t have to go through it alone.
Surviving breast cancer can come with many mixed emotions.
On one hand, learning there are no more signs of cancer in your body can be a time for celebration. But with that may come worries about cancer recurrence, feelings of stress and anxiety, and even a sense of loss for your life before treatment.
Approaching this period of your life with gentleness can help ease the transition. And understanding what to expect can help you adjust to life after breast cancer.
Becoming a survivor means that treatment was successful at slowing or stopping breast cancer.
But breast cancer treatments, like surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy, can leave you with lingering side effects. Up to
Here are some long-term side effects that may occur after breast cancer treatment:
- lymphedema (swelling in one or more arms or legs)
- weakened bones
- heart problems
- nerve damage
- blood clots
- menopause symptoms
- sexual problems
- difficulty concentrating
- memory issues
These side effects can range from temporary and mild to permanent and severe — but they can be managed with medications, self-care, and lifestyle adjustments.
To figure out ways to feel more comfortable, you may find it helpful to discuss these side effects with a doctor or other healthcare professional.
Survival and treatment may come with a range of emotions.
While some people feel a strong sense of relief, others also feel angry about having had cancer, worried that the cancer may come back, and anxiety about what the future holds.
These thoughts can become more intense during major milestones — like the anniversary of receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, or at follow-up visits. Some people call the fear of testing positive for breast cancer again “scanxiety.”
Being an active part of your healthcare team, learning all you can about your cancer, and taking steps to reduce the risk of recurrence may help you feel more in control.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are ways to lower your chances of cancer coming back:
- Eat well. Incorporate more fruits and veggies into your meals, if you’re able, and try to have a nutritious diet.
- Exercise. In general, physical activity can benefit both your physical and mental health. Before you start, though, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor to see if there’s anything you should avoid.
It’s also recommended that you reduce use of substances like alcohol, drugs, and tobacco and maintain a weight that’s healthy for your body.
There’s no right or wrong way to cope with breast cancer and what comes after surviving it. Finding ways to care for your overall health can be empowering and ultimately make the journey a little easier.
Everyone feels differently when it comes to sharing information about their cancer.
Some people seek comfort in numbers and want to be open with everyone around them. Others prefer to surround themselves with a close inner circle, or even keep their feelings and experiences to themselves.
How much you want to share and how much company you keep is up to you — and it’s OK for that to change over time.
You can choose to save the most personal details about your experience for those closest to you, or even keep them to yourself, and limit what you say to people you don’t know as well (like your co-workers).
Setting boundaries can help you feel more in control and give you a bit of breathing room on your survivorship journey. Communicating your needs, such as time for yourself, can help others understand and respect your boundaries.
The only people who really need to know about the specifics of your care and well-being are your cancer treatment team. They’re not allowed to share that information with anyone else without your explicit permission, so your privacy is protected.
Surviving breast cancer can be an emotionally complicated experience, but you can go through it with the support of others, if you choose.
No one understands this part of the journey as well as other breast cancer survivors. Joining a support group can help you feel more connected and less alone.
If you have any concerns about your cancer returning or the emotions you’re experiencing, talking with someone on your treatment team can help.
The doctors, nurses, and social workers at your cancer center or hospital can provide answers to questions and information about other supportive resources. Friends, family, and members of your community can also be part of your support team, if you wish.
Mental health professionals can provide talk therapy and a safe, private space for you to share your experiences. While those services can be pricey, free and low-cost therapy can be found through services like:
Moving into the role of breast cancer survivor after coping with the disease for months or years can come with physical and emotional changes. Carving out some space to work through your feelings can give you breathing room in this stage of your journey.
There are many sources of support for survivors, including:
- cancer care teams
- mental health professionals
- survivor support groups
- friends and family
- your community
Surviving breast cancer can be a deeply personal experience, but you don’t have to go through the challenges alone.