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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."
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"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 process."

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