Breast Cancer Survivors: Life After the Treatments End
The breast cancer treatments are over. Now what? Here's how to return to your "new normal."
"Chemobrain" and Other After-Effects continued...
How long after breast cancer treatment ends can you expect fatigue,
"chemobrain," and other post-treatment side effects to persist?
Everyone's different, of course, but as a general rule of thumb, Weiss tells
her patients to expect a recovery period about the same time from your first
"cancer scare" moment to the date of your last treatment. So if you
found a lump or had a suspicious mammogram in April, and had your last
radiation treatment in December, it may be August or September of the following
year before you reach your "new normal."
"Even then, that doesn't mean that you're fully back to yourself again,
but by then you should have a sense of where you're going to be, what your
energy level will be, and so on," says Weiss. Ongoing treatments, like
tamoxifen or other hormonal therapies such as arimidex, aromasin or femara, or
reconstructive surgery, can affect the process.
"I have a lot of patients who are in their second year of dealing with
this. Yes, their main anti-cancer treatment may be over, but they're still
figuring out how to manage the side effects of hormonal therapies and so on. It
can feel like an endless process."
Breast cancer survivorship, Weiss observes, is a marathon, not a sprint.
That means learning to handle the symptoms that stick around after treatment
ends, says Sloan-Kettering's McCabe, by using those adaptive strategies you
learned while on chemotherapy or recovering from surgery.
"You need to continue to have planned periods of rest, and think about
what times in the day and after what activities you tend to find yourself most
tired," she says. "If chemobrain is still bothering you, continue using
tricks like writing things down, posting reminders to yourself, and asking
people to repeat information." Some women find it helps to keep a daily
diary, noting down the times when fatigue or mental fogginess hit hardest, to
help them plan around it.
A Chance to Make Some Life Choices
Make sure your family and your officemates understand that just because
treatment is over, that doesn't mean that you're going to be able to jump right
back into running the carpool, coaching soccer, and traveling to conferences a
week out of every month.
"Everyone's ready for treatment to be over, not just you, and although
they've been supportive, your friends and family may be expecting you to spring
back right away," says McCabe. "It's an education process. They need to
understand that when the therapy stops, that doesn't mean that the effects of
the therapy stop immediately."
Manage your expectations, urges Weiss. "Decrease the stress and the
pressure on you in whatever ways you can. There are a lot of decisions you can
make to take charge of how your life goes while you're in this recovery