Living with breast cancer can be challenging. No matter what stage of breast cancer you’re diagnosed at, every young woman reacts to diagnosis and treatment differently. During treatment and after, it’s important to have a good quality of life, which applies to your overall wellbeing, to include mental and emotional health, physical health, ability to have life as “normal” as possible, minimizing pain, side effects, fatigue, sexual challenges, etc. You may experience challenges with any of the following issues… we hope the tips below help you cope.
After starting chemotherapy, you may feel “foggy”, have problems remembering things, and concentration. This affects some more than others and often goes away after treatment. Chemobrain can be frustrating or embarrassing. Here’s what you can do:
- use a journal or your phone’s notes feature to keep track of your schedule, notes and tasks
- exercise – it helps to decrease fatigue, helps your mood and increases endorphins
- watch your diet – keep it healthy, incorporate healthy drinks, lots of water, fruits and vegetables
- don’t overdo it – try to not put too much on your plate. Keep your life as simple as possible
- get lots of rest
- keep a track of situtions that increase stress, so you know what triggers your forgetfulness or memory lapses
Treatment, fear about outcome, stress, medications, hormone therapy, inability to sleep and emotional ups and downs can cause you to feel tired.
- make sure to let your doctor know how you feel
- let yourself get as much rest as you need
- consider complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to help with fatigue
Even though your body may change, know that you will adapt. Losing hair, breasts, scarring and weight changes can make you feel uncomfortable, unhappy or ashamed of your body or how others see you.
- It’s okay to feel that way (be sad, angry, mourn) – but don’t stay there
- Express your feelings to someone you trust – a friend, family member or another survivor
- Find healthy ways to cope
- Find ways to cheer yourself up – get new makeup, go to the spa, spend time with friends who make you feel good
- Remember that you’re beautiful, strong and can be transformed throughout this process
You might find that you’ve changed when it comes to intimacy and sexuality. Treatment can affect your libido and how you feel sexually. Physical changes from treatment can include pain uring intimacy, vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex. You might also be afraid of how you might appear to your partner.
- Make sure to talk to your doctor or other healthcare practitioner about how you feel
- Talk with your partner honestly and openly; and listen to how he/she feels
- Find other ways to be intimate, be open to exploring these other activities and work on your emotional connection
FEAR OF RECURRENCE
Your concerns about breast cancer may not stop after treatment is over. You’ll worry about recurrence and your future. Sometimes, it’s hardest after treatment – looking back and wondering what the future holds. This might cause anxiety, sleeplessness and depression. It’s totally normal to feel this way.
- Communicate with your healthcare team
- Have someone you can talk to openly about your concerns
- Journal about what you’re feeling
- Become more educated about your diagnosis and treatment
- Don’t forget to live in the now.
Many women experience lymphedema after treatment – fluid buildup in soft body tissues in the arm, that get blocked or damaged. This can be caused due to lymph nodes being removed, blockages, scarred tissue or radiation therapy. There is less risk when only your sentinel node is removed during treatment, and it’s more likely to occur the more nodes are removed. Some women don’t experience this at all, and others experience it during or years after treatment. Having lymphedema can be a challenge, but you can manage it effectively.
- Learn more about the symptoms and treatment
- Consider buying a compression garment
- Speak with your healthcare team
- See a lymphedema specialist
Coping with pain can be a challenge, but there are ways to cope. First, know that having pain doesn’t mean that your cancer has recurred – it could stem from side effects of treatment, scarring or another reason.
- Work with your healthcare team to figure out what is going on and find ways to lower your pain
- Consider complementary and alternative ways to relieve your pain
- Consider medication, if your physician suggests it
Having chemotherapy treatment at a young age can result in early menopause. Symptoms of early menopause can include fatigue, sleep issues, memory loss, weight gain, mood swings, irregular periods, vaginal dryness, no interest in sex.
- Talk to your healthcare team about what is happening
- Exercise and eat healthy to manage your weight
- Find ways to stay cooler at night
- Journal and track when you have symptoms so you know how to manage them better
One of the side effects of chemotherapy is infertility. This can be tough for young women to deal with.
- Talk with your healthcare team about this before treatment starts
- Consider your options in terms of preserving eggs or other ideas
- Dating. As your body changes and you face various emotions during treatment, you may not feel like yourself and you may have fears about how someone might perceive you. Having had a mastectomy, having scars of reconstruction are topics that are tough to bring up, or discussing living with cancer, fertility issues, and more. It’s even more daunting to discuss with a potential love interest; but don’t let it deter you.
- Be upfront with your love interest. Their reaction will tell you whether this person is someone you want to invest your time with.
- Remember, you didn’t choose this, so don’t feel like you need to be embarrassed. You’re a warrior!
- You can still have fulfilling relationships… be open.
Other ways to cope… you can get through this.
- Integrate exercise into your routine – those endorphins can help your mood and help you to feel strong
- Know that it’s okay to feel this way. You don’t have to pretend to be happy. Let yourself process your feelings naturally
- Spirituality is important. Know that there is a source you can tap into that can provide you strength and faith in your future – whatever that may be.
- Manage your diet. Eating healthy will help to manage your weight. Eating more greens, less sugars and processed foods, drinking more water, and lowering fat and salt can help.
- Find peer support. Find others who have been through this, who can offer you guidance and support.
- Chin up. Can be hard to see the “glass half full”, but try to put positive reminders in as many places as you can to keep you aware that you’re still here and that you have today.
- Explore Complementary Alternative Medicine. These are treatments you use, in addition to your traditional treatment, that can help you manage symptoms and cope with life during and after treatment. This could include reikki, medication, aromatherapy, music or art therapy, herbs and supplements, yoga and more.