Everyone reacts differently to surgery, most people recover well with few major side effects. But some common problems may arise such as:
Bruising and swelling
Discoloration following sentinel node biopsy
Pain and discomfort
Change in sensation
Most women have surgery as part of their treatment. The first time you look at your body after the operation can be difficult. The area is likely to be bruised and swollen, but this will improve over time.
You may be able to look at your scar before you leave hospital. Some women prefer to do this alone or with a nurse. Others like to have a partner, friend or family member with them. Whatever you decide, try not to leave it too long before you look as the delay may make it more difficult.
For some women, surgery doesn’t affect how they feel about themselves, but many others find the changes more difficult to accept. Your confidence and self-esteem may be affected and you may feel unfeminine or unattractive.
Some women feel lop-sided or incomplete. You may feel very self-conscious, for example if you’re in a communal changing room, particularly at first.
Research has shown that the sooner you confront the physical changes to your body, the easier you may find it to gain confidence in the way you look. However, some people won’t have had the chance or courage to do this early on. It’s never too late, though.
If you have a partner, letting them see the surgical scars and changes to your body sooner may also make being intimate easier in the long term.
The first few times you look at yourself can make you feel unhappy and shocked, and you may want to avoid looking at yourself again. However, the initial intense feelings you may have will lessen if you’re able to keep looking.
Here are some tips to help you get used to looking at your body:
• First, it may help to look at yourself in a full-length mirror fully clothed and pick out three things you really like about yourself.
• After that, try the exercise in lingerie or underwear.
• You can then move on to looking at your naked body in a full-length mirror. Describe what you see and what you like or
• what makes you feel awkward or uncomfortable.
• Look at and touch your scars or breast reconstruction so that you get used to how this now feels.
• The more often you look at and feel your body, the less different it will seem.
Some women will continue to feel uncomfortable about looking at their body. If you’ve tried the techniques above and still find looking at your body difficult or upsetting, you may find it helpful to speak to a professional counsellor.
Radiation therapy affects the skin in much the way sunburn does, causing redness, itchiness, soreness, blistering, or peeling. Exposing the skin to the air will help any weepy sores to heal more quickly. The breast skin may also become shiny or darker than normal. And sensation in the breast can change, becoming more or less sensitive than normal. Many women find that during radiation treatment, loose, lightweight tops are more comfortable to wear than traditional bras.
Fatigue is another effect of radiation, especially after treatment has gone on for a few weeks. Poor wound healing at the surgery site may also be a problem if radiation is performed too close to the time of breast cancer surgery.
The immune-stimulating drugs used in biological therapy can ease side effects and boost your body’s ability to fight the cancer during or after chemotherapy treatment. However, these same drugs carry potential side effects of their own including pain in the legs, chest, or back; skin rashes or swelling at the place where the injections were given; flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, and fatigue; digestive tract problems; and possible allergic reactions.
Hormone therapy drugs have unique side effects related to the hormone-blocking effect that makes them effective against breast cancer. Possible problems resemble menopause and may include hot flashes, nausea, vaginal spotting, itching, discharge, or dryness. Tamoxifen in particular is linked to an increased risk for cancer of the uterus (endometrial cancer), as well as stroke and blood clots in the legs (deep-vein thrombosis). The benefits of any form of hormone therapy may outweigh the risks for you; ask your doctor to help you decide.
Breast cancer is a serious illness that requires the most sophisticated treatment the medical industry has to offer. However, many alternative therapies make excellent partners when combined with standard treatment. Choosing to include some or all of these additional modes of healing can positively affect your well-being and get you through breast cancer treatment as gently as possible. Of course, be sure to consult your doctor if you want to try any alternative remedy — not all alternative therapies combine well with chemotherapy or hormone therapy.
After treatment is over, you, your family, and friends might expect you to go right back to “normal.” But this is easier said than done. All the physical and emotional changes, like fatigue, hot flashes, fear of recurrence, and most of all issues about self-image, as well as issues related to daily activities, career and relationships may be making your life difficult.
The breasts are a profound source of female self-image. Cancer of the breast may seriously affect a woman’s perception of her identity, and breast loss can be very psychologically damaging. About 30% of women with the disease suffer from prolonged anxiety and depression, which are natural responses to the loss of a breast or fear of the disease. Women who fail to adjust often have other life crises such as divorce or unemployment.
These psychological problems can be helped by referral to a psychiatrist (specialist in mental illness), who may recommend psychotherapy or medications to aid recovery. The decision to use a prosthesis or to undergo breast reconstruction usually is based on the woman’s own body image, family back ground, moral and economical support from family. Other key factors include her level of physical activity, style of clothing, and her willingness to reveal the diagnosis of breast cancer to others. The majority of women can return to normal life.
Breast cancer and its treatments can cause changes to your body and how you feel about your body. This may be because of physical changes after surgery, hair loss from chemotherapy or weight gain, for example.
Menopausal symptoms are a common result of treatments for breast cancer. This is because treatments can either stop the effectiveness of female hormones or stop their production altogether.
Menopausal symptoms that may affect how you feel about your body include:
• hot flashes
• night sweats
• joint aches and pains
• weight gain
Weight gain during and after treatment can happen for several reasons. Some drugs can increase appetite, you may be less active when having treatment, or you may eat more if you’re anxious or because your routine has changed.
Putting on weight can affect how you feel about your body and leave you with low self-esteem.
However, some simple changes to the way you eat and exercise can help you lose weight and keep it off.
Hair loss can be a distressing side effect of chemotherapy. Your hair may be an important part of how you feel about yourself and losing it can affect your confidence and self-esteem.
Hair loss is almost always temporary and hair usually starts to grow back once chemotherapy has finished, sometimes sooner.
Lymphedema is swelling of the arm, hand or breast area caused by a build-up of lymph fluid in the surface tissues of the body.
Having lymphedema can affect you both physically and emotionally. It can make you feel differently about your body and mean that you have to adapt to yet another change in your body and appearance.
If you have lymphedema you may have to use a lymphedema sleeve, which can be a visible sign that something is different about you. Wearing a sleeve may make you feel you have to change the way you dress – for example, no longer wearing sleeveless tops or dresses.