Yes, let’s admit it. Getting diagnosed with breast cancer, fighting questions like ‘why me’, subsequent treatment, tackling the anxiety about survival…all these can drain you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It’s not easy to overcome all these. But then, nothing worth conquering and cherishing for life does come easy to anyone. Let’s take a look at the ways in which the body changes post breast cancer treatment and how breast cancer survivors can spring back to life and make the most of it.
Changes to the body
Post-surgery, there will be scars and bruises in the chest/breast area. If a mastectomy is performed as part of the treatment, it may make a survivor feel incomplete. In addition to these are hair fall and its eventual regrowth. All these physical changes would affect the survivors emotionally too.
Initially, it would be difficult for survivors to look at their body and accept the changes it has undergone. However, various researches show that those who cope with the changes earlier gain confidence faster.
Looking at oneself post-treatment
Look at the mirror fully clothed and appreciate three things you like most about yourself.
Stand in front of the mirror in your undergarments and observe yourself.
Once you feel you’re ready to confront your naked self, shed your clothes and stand in front of the mirror; observe keenly and pen down what you like, what you don’t or what makes you feel awkward.
Look at and feel your scars and breast implants regularly to get used to.
Mind you, the more often you look at your body, the more ready you’ll be to accept it.
Some women may still find it difficult to cope with the changes to their body post-surgery. In such scenarios, it would be helpful to opt for counseling for adjustment disorder.
Enhancing the looks
One of the most important concerns of many breast cancer survivors is to restore their appearance post-surgery. Needless to say, after mastectomy, women tend to suffer from low levels of confidence. The good news is that with breast reconstruction women can regain confidence and live a happy and active life. Remember, breast reconstruction simply reconstructs the breast shape, it cannot replace your breast, nipple or the sensations attached to it.
After undergoing treatment for breast cancer, pre and perimenopausal women may start to get symptoms of menopause. This is because treatments like chemotherapy and hormone therapy often affect the production of female hormones temporarily or permanently. This will affect your body, mind and your sex life. Some of the symptoms include:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Loss of desire
- Mood swings
- Dryness in the vagina accompanied by pain
- Changes in an orgasmic experience
- Healthcare experts and counselors can help you control these symptoms
Occasionally certain drugs used in the treatment may make you gain weight. Other important reasons for weight gain are as follows:
When you’re anxious or your routine changes, you are prone to eating more
You remain physically inactive and that contributes to weight gain
Weight Gain is associated with an increased risk of recurrence of cancer. Hence getting back to regular exercise and fitness routine after completion of treatment may not only be helpful in building self-esteem and confidence but also in keeping cancer at bay.
A daily walk of at least 45 minutes with arm exercises in operated arm and yoga is highly recommended.
One of the most common side effects of chemotherapy is hair loss. You can also ask your medical oncologist about measures that can be taken to minimize hair loss like cooling caps during chemotherapy. Natural hair accessories and wigs can be used to make the transition easier.
However, rest assured that it’s just temporary. Your hair will grow back soon within 3-6 months of completion of chemotherapy.
Getting back to feet
For working women, being independent and productive at work may be the best way to feel normal. Depending on the treatment, you can ask your oncologist about the best time to join back work. While some brave women continue to work even during treatment, some may take a few weeks to recover.
The most difficult part of our society is to get over the stigma associated with cancer and being accepted by others. Be it relatives, neighbors or colleagues. Being secretive and hiding about your struggle may have a negative effect on your spirit and confidence in the long run. It has been observed that women who are more open about their battle with cancer and share their struggles cope faster and better.
Hence, share your struggle with your near ones and even far ones through talking, counselling or even microblogging on social media. There are many survivors group that can help you feel more understood and accepted.
Now, we’ve seen some of the most common side effects of breast cancer treatment and how to cope with them. Remember, with acceptance comes peace. Not everyone survives the onslaught of breast cancer. If you’re survivor, it simply means that you’re tough and you have it in you to give breast cancer and its side effects a run for their money.