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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...

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."

For example, you may have certain ideas about how your house should look, how much income you're going to have, and what your commitments to your community need to be. Decide which of those things are really important to you and which ones don't matter quite as much. Let the less-important ones slide or find someone else to do them.

Gina Shaw is a medical writer who was treated for breast cancer in 2004, and now calls herself a "joyful breast cancer survivor."

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