You may experience immense anxiety, depression, weakness and helplessness after your treatment, but you must be happy and thankful to have survived at first hand. Following are some tips and techniques to cope with post-treatment stress.
Post-Surgery Changes to Body
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 the 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.
Getting Used to Changes
- First, it may help to look at yourself in a full-length mirror fully clothed and pick out three things you 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
- What makes you feel awkward or uncomfortable
- Look at and touch your scars or breast reconstruction so you get used to how this now feels
- The more often you look at and feel your body, the less different it will seem
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.
After Biological Therapy
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.
After Hormone Therapy
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.
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, and issues related to daily activities, career and relationships may make 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 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.
Referral to a psychiatrist (specialist in mental illness) can help coping these psychological problems. The psychiatrist 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 background, moral and economic support from the 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. Most women can return to a normal life.
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 & Regrowth
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 grow back once chemotherapy has finished, sometimes sooner.
You can wear a wig and experiment with different wig styles and colours. You must know your life, and your presence is more important than your looks.