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What happens after my treatment ends?

Completing your breast cancer treatment is a great relief, and a cause for celebration.

However, some people can also find the time after treatment stressful, as it is hard for you and your family not to worry about the cancer coming back.

Concern about cancer recurrence is common among cancer survivors – it may take a while before your confidence in your recovery begins to feel real.

To give yourself the best possible outcome, there are essential steps and support you should consider to ensure you make a full recovery physically, sexually and mentally.

Follow-up care

It is important to keep all your follow-up appointments. These visits are an opportunity to talk about symptoms and questions and for your doctor to do a physical examination.

Laboratory or imaging tests may be considered at these visits.

The longer you are free of cancer, the less often you will need visits.

Lymphoedema

This can occur any time after treatment for breast cancer – right after surgery or months or even years later.

Lymphoedema is swellingusually of the arm in the case of breast surgery and/or radiation – caused by disruption to the lymphatic drainage system leading to lymphatic fluid build-up.

Lymphoedema is treatable but not curable, so it is best prevented or at least diagnosed as early as possible and kept under control.

Tell your doctor right away about any swelling, tightness or injury to the hand or arm.

Lymphoedema should ideally be treated by a trained Lymphoedema therapist (usually a physiotherapist, occupational therapist or nurse), working together with the patient and the family.

Preventative strategies include using gloves when gardening and avoiding having intravenous drips, blood drawn from or blood pressure taken on the arm on the side of the lymph-node surgery or radiation.

Contact CANSA for information about Lymphoedema clinics near you.

Find our list of trusted treatment, management and support associates here.

Quality of life

Quality of life after treatment for breast cancer is important.

Emotional aspects of breast cancer

Support can come in many forms: family, friends, cancer-support groups, church or other spiritual groups. If you are not sure who to contact for help, contact CANSA and they can put you in touch with a group.

Find our list of recommended information sites on support for dealing with breast diseases and breast cancer here.

Find our list of trusted treatment, management and support associates here.

Making healthier choices

Think about your lifestyle before you were diagnosed with cancer. What were the healthy things you did, and what were the things you did that might have made you less healthy?

Think about diet, smoking, stress management and alcohol intake.

You can start making changes today that can have positive effects for the rest of your life. You will not only feel better, you will also be healthier.

Diet and nutrition

One of the best things you can do after treatment is to put healthy eating habits in place.

The long-term benefits of some simple changes, like increasing the variety of healthy foods you eat can make an enormous difference.

  • Try to eat 5 servings of vegetables and fruits each day.
  • Choose whole grains instead of white flour and sugars.
  • Try to limit meats that are high in fat.
  • Cut back on processed foods.
  • If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to 1 drink a day at the most.
  • And get regular exercise.

The combination of a balanced diet and exercise will keep you feeling more energetic and help you maintain a healthy weight which will reduce your risk of the cancer coming back.

Sexual health

This is probably the least talked-about aspect of your life that is affected after a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Physical changes after surgery may make some women feel uncomfortable about their bodies. There may be decreased breast sensation or the breasts may be hypersensitive.

Treatments like chemotherapy and hormone therapy can change your hormone levels and affect your sexual interest or response.

You may have symptoms of menopause like hot flushes, vaginal dryness and menstrual cycle changes. In spite of these changes, you should still be able to have meaningful sex and reach orgasm. Vaginal dryness can be improved with various creams or lotions.

Your partner may also feel unsure how to express love emotionally and physically, which can lead to tension in relationships.

Breast cancer can be a positive growth experience for couples when partners acknowledge potential problems, are more aware of what to expect and actively seek advice.

Seek out support

We have a great network of associates who provide support during after treatment. Please find them here.

Find useful information on recommended resources here.

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Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital / Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital / Claremont Pathcare Suites