Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Moving Forward after Breast Cancer

I attended a really good session last week put on by the local Breast Cancer Centre of Hope, led by a nurse and a psychologist. One of the best things is just being with other people at the same stage as you - finished treatment, still feeling the side effects, wondering about getting back to a 'normal' life.

I'll summarize it here, from my point of view (I'm not mentioning tamoxifen or other things that don't apply to me):

They put together the program a couple of years ago based on a need - women wondering what happens now that treatment is done, their support network backs away, and yet they are not recovering as quickly as they expected to. They offer it monthly here in Winnipeg, I'm sure other places offer something similar, or if you want to start something, I can give you the contact information for the two ladies that run the program here.

1. Physical Effects left behind include fatigue, sleep issues, chemo brain, treatment-induced menopause, numbness/pain from surgery, neuropathy from taxotere, aches and pains (glucosamine was recommended, I may have to try that). They encouraged us to talk to our doctors about sleep aides and/or anti-anxiety meds if needed for 6 months to a year.

2. Psychological/Emotional Needs - this was an interesting topic. In addition to talking about sadness, depression, anxiety, it covered a few things I hadn't given much thought to. Some people believe that there has to be a big lesson in this experience (what did you learn from it, what was the good in it). The two ladies leading the session have a firm belief that there does not have to be a big lesson here, that it did not a happen for a 'reason'. Many of my on-line buddies will agree that we have a hard time listening to people who are 'thankful' for the experience of breast cancer, or how it has changed their lives. My personal thought on it is that it was awful, I don't wish it on anyone, but I do recognize the 'silver lining' - the strong new friendships I have, the time I was able to spend with my kids.

3. Living with Hope and Uncertainty - this was a discussion on learning to trust your body again, and accepting the fear of recurrence. How to stay sane during times of increased anxiety (tests, doctor visits, etc). Things to watch for, and that you should see a doctor at least every 6 months for the next 5 years (whether its your oncologist, surgeon, family doctor, etc). Right now my oncologist still has me on a 3-month follow up. It was pointed out that there is no testing done to see if the cancer is returning (other than an annual mammogram). It's really up to us to know our own bodies.

4. Getting Back to Work - make sure you are ready - it requires both physical and emotional energy. Typically you need a minimum of 4-6 months after treatment is over, and sometimes up to a year. They strongly recommend a gradual return to work to make sure you can manage it. I am aiming to go back in March, which will be 4 months since treatment ended. I've really felt more energy as well as an ability to think more clearly in the last 2 weeks, which is why I can now think about going back to work without feeling completely overwhelmed.

I hope others have a session like this available. Ask for it. Here is a link to a site about 'Life After Treatment':


  1. Thanks for sharing this information. I am not rushing back to work again because my job is physical. This year I am concentrating on getting fit with my running and swimming. I take glucosomin and chronditin and have done since before cancer because of the running I do, it is definately worth it.

  2. What a great entry! We've talked to so many women who don't know what to do after treatment ends. It's important to remember that they need support too!

  3. Thanks for the tips and information, Beth. It is so helpful, I've found, to talk to others who have gone through the struggles of chemo, radiation and surgery, even after the treatments are long over. It will be 4 years in February since my diagnosis, and I still find that talking about it to be therapeutic, and I hope to encourage others along the way. That is how I look at this whole cancer thing, not necesarrily as a "blessing," but as a means of helping others go through something that I couldn't have possibly understood if I hadn't experienced it myself.

    Hope you continue to feel better each day! :)

  4. Beth not to burst your bubble... but the chemical induced menapause... NOT.. it comes back...and you do it all over again... well it did to me ... and then I had to have a hysterectomy...

  5. Omg Beth I am so glad I stumbled across this blog. On a day when I am doubting everything and scared. I am 2 months out from taxol for breast cancer and some days really suck. Tired achy sore. Worried I will never cover and worry about every pain. I am off work too from a job with no flexabiity have to go back April 1st not sure if I can do it. Only option is to quit or get fired my husband has ins but not as good as mine. Which is important I am 48 with two boys 10/12. Being home with them is great. And yes I do not know how others feel thankful for this horrible event it has destroyed my world.