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Living With Breast Cancer

Living with Breast Cancer

The treatment you’re receiving, the stage the cancer is at and any number of other of other
factors can determine the effect it has on your daily life. If you need it, there are a number
of different forms of help right now. How you’ll cope with the condition will vary from
person to person, but there should be effective support out there for everyone. One or
more of these systems should be able to help you, though not every method will work for
every patient.

Some quick tips for improving your daily life with breast cancer include…
❏ A powerful support system can be found in your family and friends – talk to them.
❏ Research your condition as much as you can.
❏ Give yourself some “me time”.
❏ Try not to overexert yourself or take on too much.
❏ There are plenty of people out there in the same situation, and it’s a good idea to
communicate with them.

Make time for your feelings.
When you’re told you have cancer, you’re likely to have a whole range of different
emotions. You might feel upset or astonished. Other common feelings include…
❖ Dazed;
❖ Bewildered;
❖ Ashamed;
❖ Angry and resentful;
❖ Frightened and uncertain.

These feelings might all be present, or you may just have one or two. Feeling totally
different is also fine! Everyone will have a different reaction. Processing the idea that you
have cancer at all can feel impossible sometimes.

Cancer comes hand in hand with all of these emotions – it’s natural. It’s likely that you’ll
pass through a whole spectrum of emotions.

Living in doubt
For many people, the uncertainty of living with breast cancer can be the hardest part.
Looking ahead can be really challenging, and some people find living in the present and

making plans from day to day easier. Other people find it easier to feel in control if they
spend time planning for the future.

Making decisions about your care and treatment, feeling confident and knowing how to
cope will be a lot easier with the right information and support. Feeling this way may not be
an option every day, however. Try to think about your future, however difficult that is.
There’s still time to think about how you want to plan the coming months or years, and
how you want to achieve your goals.

This might not be the future you were always looking for, but it still has every opportunity
to be bright!

Healing
As part of their treatment, many women with breast cancer have to have an operation. It
can take some time to get back to normal after this surgery. Give yourself time to recover –
it’s important that you take these things slowly. Avoid heavy housework during this time,
and try not to lift anything (no boxes, and no children!) Driving may also be avoided.
You may feel very tired if you’ve received certain treatments, such as radiotherapy and
chemotherapy. For a while, it may be necessary to take a break from some of your normal
activities. Friends and family are here to support you, so don’t feel afraid to ask for practical
help!

Feeling tired?
Getting treated for breast cancer, it’s likely you’ll experience fatigue at some point. The
disease and treatments for it have a number of side effects, but fatigue is one of the most
common.

Make sure you know the warning signs of fatigue, so you know when you need to take it a
bit easier:
❏ Bags under the eyes;
❏ Entire body feels exhausted;
❏ Feeling distracted;
❏ Feeling disinterested or unmotivated;
❏ Annoyance;
❏ Nervousness, anxiety or impatience;
❏ Exhaustion, even after sleeping;
❏ Weakness or malaise;
❏ Stiff shoulders;
❏ Tired legs.

Aftercare
For the first year after your treatment has finished, you’ll be invited for regular check-ups
every three months or so.

In cases where the patient has had early breast cancer, a care plan will be agreed upon by
the individual and their healthcare team following treatment. Follow-up details will be
included in this plan. Your GP will receive a copy of the plan, as will you. To see how your
cancer is responding to treatment, your doctor will examine you during the check-up and
blood tests and X-rays may be carried out.

After your treatment, you should be offered a mammogram every year for the first five
years.

Breast cancer and your body
Your body and the way you look may be changed by breast cancer and its treatments. A
scar or scars may be left by surgery, for example. Chemotherapy may cause you to lose
your hair. After treatment or during, it’s also common for people to gain or lose weight.
These are all outward signs of having cancer, and can have a major impact on the way you
see your body. Although these signs are often only temporary, they can be very upsetting.

Coping with change
Your body and how you think about it may well be changed by a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Breast cancer treatment can result in a number of bodily changes, and everyone will react
to that differently.

Some will find it very difficult to cope, though others will react to the changes positively. It’s
really important that you allow yourself to come to terms with your changing body and
what it means to you.

Lasting impacts
New problems such as the following are very rare, but they may be caused by your
treatment for breast cancer…
❖ After surgery, you may experience stiffness and soreness in your shoulders and
arms. The skin in these areas may feel very tight.
❖ The lymphatic drainage system in your armpit may be damaged by radiotherapy or
surgery. This can lead to lymphoedema, a build-up of excess lymph fluid resulting in
swelling.

If your treatment leads to these or any other long-term effects, you should consult your
healthcare team.

For more information about skin cancer, check out Need2Know’s Essential Guide to
Breast Cancer which will look at what breast cancer is and how it’s diagnosed, right
through to support options, the treatment available and how to care for your carers.
Need2Know also have some great books about prostate cancer, testicular cancer and skin
cancer. Whether you’re newly diagnosed, caring for a friend or just curious, we have all the
information you need!

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