All is well: Life after Breast Cancer treatment
Dr Sandeep Jain, consultant Radiation Oncologist at Mazumdar-shaw cancer centre, Narayana Hrudayalaya talks about how patients can go back to leading a normal life after Breast Cancer treatment.
Preeti feels as if the worst is over. She is ready to move on with her life since “All is well” now. She now feels sort of like a cancer survivor, ready to put the experience behind her. Preeti has recently completed her surgery, chemotherapy and radiation uneventfully following the diagnosis of breast cancer. Her doctor has told that the treatment is successful and she can resume her routine life with regular visits to the hospital. Preeti is one of the cancer survivors who feel excited relieved after completing the treatment of cancer. It may take a while before confidence in recovery begins to built-in. After treatment is completed, it is very important to go to all scheduled follow-up visits.
It is quite tempting to avoid the visits to the treating doctor and to undergo uncomfortable tests required in follow-up. By the treatment is completed, patient feel tired of being a cancer patient and just want to forget about this part of life and move on. It is understandable to want to avoid tests, doctors and hospitals reminds of cancer and encounter to the possibility that cancer may come back (recurrence). This is a natural impulse, but not a wise choice. It is extremely essential to have visits even after 5 years, since a recurrence if detected early may be liable to curative treatment again.
During these visits, doctors will ask questions about any symptoms examine and order relevant tests. This is needed to not only a lookout for recurrences but also a search for side effects of the treatment. Cancer treatment can have side effects like as any other treatment. However, most of these will last for a few weeks to months. At first, one should see all the doctors of treatment team possibly every 4 to 6 months. The longer the patients have been free of cancer, the less often the appointments are needed.
Other tests such as tumor marker studies such as CA-15-3, blood tests of liver and kidney function, and chest x-rays may sometimes be required. If the patient had breast-conserving surgery it is extremely important to have mammograms every year. If the patient is advised of hormonal therapy like tamoxifen, one should be watchful for abnormal vaginal bleeding and need to have yearly pelvic exams. Although this is usually caused by a non-cancerous condition, sometimes sonography may be required. If the patient is taking medicines called “aromatase inhibitors” like letrozole or anastrozole, there may be a risk of osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). Doctor may consider testing of bone density and advice of calcium pills to strengthen bones.
When their treatment is done, some people feel that they are no longer fighting their cancer. The patients may find loneliness however support groups like SANGINI give you companionship and guidance for future life. With such groups the patient can share their feelings and day to day problems with the other cancer survivors too. The patient may be left with reminders of their treatment such as surgical scars and chemo-ports. Some studies suggest that younger women, who represent about 1 out of 4 breast cancer survivors, tend to have more trouble with social functioning and accepting to what has happened to them. Some patients may feel emotionally and physically exhausted. Some of it may be the lingering side effects of treatment, but some feel as if body and spirit are tired and they crave for prolonged rest. It's been a long time since they had relaxed and explore things they always wanted to do.
Some patients feel like going back to your family responsibilities. You may have had to make some of life decisions regarding children. The outlook and whole way of life may have changed, at least for a time. Commonly many patients notice that they are paying a lot of attention to the aches and pains, inspite of the doctor telling that they have no signs of cancer now. Things that are by patient before are now being done by others as a gesture of sympathy. However, it is time to get back to household work, to resume life as before and take your responsibilities.
It is also important on the part of family not to make patient handicapped to remain subtle in offering support and to stop treating her as patient. In most patients the activities of daily living and household work can be safely resumed after the treatment. It not only engage mind but also add physical activity to the routine in addition to the exercises told by doctor.
When treatment ends, people begin a new chapter in their lives, one that can bring hope, happiness. One should keep in mind that she is a cancer survivor and is one of nearly 11 million people alive today who has had cancer, since the survival rate is improving day by day due to better medicines and technology. With such a positive outlook to life women like preeti can get out of shackles of past and live a healthy life they deserve.