Life After Breast Cancer Treatment

02.07.2021

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women and luckily survival rates are improving; in the UK, over the last 40 years, breast cancer survival rates have doubled. The increase in survival rates is due to both better treatment options and earlier detection that is available through breast cancer screening programmes. However, even after successful breast cancer treatment, those who have been through breast cancer are often left with many physical and mental obstacles. It can be a highly emotional time coming to terms with your experience and also the changes that take place in your body. 

What are the common side effects after breast cancer treatment?

After breast cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy and ovarian suppression, women can often experience side effects similar to that of the menopause. These symptoms include:

  • Hot flushes
  • Night sweats
  • Changes to your sex drive
  • Heart palpitations
  • Mood swings
  • Weight gain
  • Joint pain
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Feeling anxious or irritable

It is completely normal to experience any combination of the above symptoms. You can work with your breast cancer healthcare team to help alleviate your symptoms and they will be able to offer you relief from any of them. 

Changes to your body after breast cancer surgery

The majority of women will have undergone surgery as part of their breast cancer treatment. You may find it hard to see the physical changes to your body after surgery and struggle with feeling incomplete. Your confidence and self-esteem may be impacted and we understand you may find it difficult to adjust to your new appearance. 

Research shows confronting changes to your body early on is the best way to accept the changes. Looking in the mirror after surgery can be hard but the feelings of shock will lessen over time and you will find it easier to accept your new appearance. It is a good idea to talk through how you are feeling with those closest to you. 

Advice for accepting your new appearance after breast cancer treatment

  1. When looking in the mirror for the first time after surgery, pick out three things you like about yourself and are grateful for.
  2. Describe what you see and how it makes you feel, think about what you like and dislike about your body and don’t be afraid to discuss your feelings with your partner.
  3. Don’t be afraid to touch your scars and get used to how they feel and look.
  4. The more you look at your body, the less different it will begin to seem and the more comfortable you will be with your new appearance.
  5. Some women find it helpful to speak to a therapist or counsellor after treatment to help them come to terms with their new appearance.

Coping emotionally

After your breast cancer treatment, experiencing a range of emotions is extremely normal and it is common for your mental health to be affected. From shock, relief, fear, anger, sadness, anxiety and numbness, any emotion you feel is valid. Talking through how you are feeling with friends and family is very important in the healing process for you. The someone like me programme is a breast cancer support group that helps those affected by the disease speak to someone who understands and can offer specialist support and advice. 

You may be feeling anxious about breast cancer recurrence. This is a completely valid emotional response. Most breast cancers don’t come back after treatment, however it is completely normal to be worried that it might. Make sure you are familiar with the symptoms of breast cancer and that you continue to regularly check your body for any changes. If you are worried about any new symptoms talk to a GP and get your symptoms checked out.

Dealing with anxiety around breast cancer recurrence is completely normal and it is important to stay breast and body aware so you can notice any changes quickly. If you are struggling with anxiety around breast cancer recurrence then have a look through our tips on dealing with anxiety

How to look after your mental health following breast cancer

It can be hard to adjust to your new normal once you have undergone breast cancer treatment. Looking after your mental health is vital in feeling good going forward. Friends and family may want to get back to normal but you may still be coping with the side-effects of treatment. Keep on top of meeting your basic needs such as getting enough sleep, eating healthily and participating in regular exercise. Take a look through the breast cancer forum where you can discuss your feelings with others who understand and have gone through breast cancer treatment.

We offer a one-stop breast cancer screening service. If you are worried about new symptoms or want some expert advice then get in touch with us today, we are here to support you through your health needs. 

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