Once you have completed your breast cancer treatment, healing mind, body, and soul starts with the recovery phase: the three months or so following your cancer care. Although you will not be in active treatment, you may still be recovering from side effects of treatments, surgery, or radiation therapy while possibly also on anti-hormone therapy. This is the time to start thinking about moving towards the healing process and re-emerging into life after your treatment. It can be helpful to know what you can expect.
Recovering from Treatment
If you’ve had surgery, such as a lumpectomy, mastectomy, and/or removal of lymph nodes, you will probably have some pain around the surgical site after the procedure. Skin pain and sensitivity can be experienced after radiation, as well as breast pain. Pain related to chemotherapy may be felt in the fingers and toes, or in the joints. You’ll most likely experience some pain or discomfort if you’ve also gone through reconstructive surgery. Along with pain, you may also be dealing with some lasting side effects from your treatment. It’s important to remember that nearly all side effects are temporary. Once treatment stops, they should lessen with time.
Depending on your treatment plan, you may be on anti-hormone therapy moving forward, as well as other medications. It is important to learn about and adapt to managing your medications as you re-enter into daily living.
While visits to your treatment facility will be less frequent, these visits will still be regular “to-do” items on your calendar. Generally, you can expect to see your oncologist every three months for the first two years following treatment. After that, you’ll likely visit your oncologist every six months for the following three years.
Once your treatment has ended, you should expect to review and discuss a survivorship plan with your oncologist. This plan will include a list of the therapies you received during your treatment, as well as any of the following information:
- stage of cancer and relevant details related to the tumor
- current treatment you may still be receiving
- support services and contact information for your cancer team
- information for follow-up care and explanation of side effects you may expect
It is important that you keep this plan handy. The plan provides details about your breast cancer and treatment during this occurrence. If your cancer should reoccur, it will be important for your healthcare team to refer to previous records and information about your care.
This plan also helps connect you with your healthcare team once you are no longer in active treatment. It will provide information for follow-up monitoring, as well as recommendations for recovery and transitioning after cancer care.
The Emotional Impact
Besides the physical side of recovery, you’ll also probably be dealing with the emotional impact of treatment during this phase as well. You may be experiencing emotions related to:
- the effects of a mastectomy, hair loss from chemotherapy, and other physical changes
- fear of being “on your own” with no one monitoring you closely
- fear of recurrence or of future cancer
- a change in priorities or a realization of what’s really important in your life
Because you won’t be visiting your treatment facility or seeing your cancer team as frequently, it’s also quite common to experience feelings of loneliness or even abandonment. You may feel vulnerable because you’re not being under the constant watch of your oncologist. Talk to your oncologist as well as your whole cancer team if you do experience these feelings. They can help you understand how to stay connected.