Transitioning Back to Daily Living
For the first six months or more after your recovery period from breast cancer treatment, you may experience some adjustments to your daily lifestyle. Having finished what may have felt like a treatment haze, you will enter a period where your body and mind will need to adapt to a “new self.” This may mean processing what you just experienced, adapting to a new, healthier lifestyle, or getting used to your new self. This is also a time of exploration and rediscovery who you are post-cancer.
Although you are no longer in active treatment, you will need ongoing monitoring of your health. This include follow-up care with your cancer team.
During the recovery phase, you will have received a survivorship plan with an overview of the treatments you went through and the follow-up care you should receive. It’s not enough to simply read this document once, however. It’s important to continue to have a relationship with your entire cancer team in this transitioning phase. Talk to them about anything unusual you’re experiencing, as well as any positive outcomes or instances. They’ll most likely be happy to hear about your progress.
Included in your ongoing monitoring is regular follow-up care. You should generally expect to have the following tests:
- mammography, which may be included with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), six months after surgery, followed by regular yearly exams
- bone density screenings
- blood work
- hormone testing, depending on your individual needs
Your appointment schedule may vary, but you can expect to visit your oncologist every three months for the first two years following treatment. After two years, your appointments will probably happen every six months. After five years, your oncologist and cancer team will discuss your individual follow-up care plan with you, including how often you should have regularly scheduled appointments.
The “New” Self
Going through cancer treatment is a serious feat. You’re likely to come out with a new lease on life and, in many cases, a “new self.”
However, being on the other side of cancer may not be exactly what you thought it would be. First, although you’re cancer-free now, there’s a chance of recurrence. Because of this, many women experience feelings of loneliness or abandonment. This is especially likely if your family and friends think that you’re already “cured.” Changes in appearance — such as a new hair color, weight fluctuations, or the aftermath of a mastectomy — may also spark some disconcerting feelings.
These feelings are normal, but they don’t have to define you. Talking with your network of family and friends can be helpful. Counseling and support can be another helpful outlet. Seek out mental health professionals who are experienced in treating breast cancer patients. The American Cancer Society’s Look Good Feel Better program can assist you both during and after your treatment.
Most importantly, finding your “new self” doesn’t have to be negative. In fact, it can and should be a time for self-reflection, enlightenment, and valuable adjustments.
Now that you’ve gone through the treatment and recovery phase, it is a great time to reevaluate your life and make some positive changes for your health. These changes may help you feel rejuvenated and refreshed. Many women are driven to make these lifestyle and behavioral changes because they want to give themselves the best chance for non-recurrence.
Diet and Nutrition
Whether you gained weight, lost weight, or maintained your weight during treatment, eating healthfully and establishing a nutritious eating plan is extremely important after treatment. Your post-treatment eating habits should help strengthen and refuel your body. While your eating plan will be unique to you and your body, here are some tips for getting on the right track:
- Choose lean proteins like chicken and fish.
- Opt for whole grains over white bread or rice.
- Swap fried foods for baked or grilled.
- Substitute mayonnaise and ranch dressing for avocado and olive oil.
Along with eating well, you should also try to focus on getting proper exercise. A manageable exercise regimen can help keep your heart and lungs healthy, give you more energy, and improve your mood. Staying active may also help with your weight management. Always make sure to discuss your exercise plan with your oncologist beforehand.