Life after breast cancer: An expert talks about what to expect and how to manage

A brush with breast cancer and its treatment can bring major changes to your life - be it to your body or mind. Read on to find out more!
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Come, let's tell you some myths and facts about cancer. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Aruna Kalra Published: 23 Oct 2021, 19:11 pm IST
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Life after breast cancer means making new choices along with returning to some familiar things. Breast cancer and its treatments can bring some changes to your body as well as your appearance. Like, after surgery your body will be left with a scar or two. If you had chemotherapy then you may also have lost your hair. Many women also experience weight gain during or after breast cancer treatment.
Even though many of the effects of breast cancer treatment can be temporary, they can still be very heartbreaking and have an important effect on how you see yourself and your body.

breast cancer
Self care post surgery is important. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
What to expect and how to manage life after breast cancer?
  1. Changes to your body after surgery
    Many women who face breast cancer have surgery as part of their treatment. The first look at your body after the treatment can be difficult. Your breast/chest area is likely to be bruised and swollen after the surgery, but this will recover with time.
    Some women don’t get affected by how they feel about themselves after the surgery, but many others find the changes much difficult to accept. Your confidence and self-esteem may get affected. You may feel lopsided or incomplete or very self-conscious. For example, if you are in a common changing room, but all you have to be is strong and keep going.

Getting used to changes
The sooner you accept the physical changes in your body, the easier it will get for you to gain confidence in the way you look. However, some women could not get a chance or courage to do this early on.

If you are in a relationship or you are married, letting your partner see the surgical scars and changes in your body may also help in being intimate easier in the long term.

At first, you might feel unhappy and shocked after you look at yourself in the mirror, and you may want to avoid looking at yourself again. However, the initial intense feelings of unhappiness and shock you may have will lessen with time as you get more used to how you look after the treatment.

2. Reconstruction and prosthesis

Many women try to restore or get back to their natural appearance after breast cancer treatment. For the same, they may choose breast reconstruction as an option. Breast reconstruction reconstructs a breast shape although it can’t bring back the original breast or the sensations of it and the nipple. Some women feel that breast reconstruction will enhance the quality of their life and will help them in feeling more confident overall. Breast reconstruction, immediately after the surgery, may make it easy for a woman to adjust to the changes in her body. However, some women may feel unsure of their new shape.

Breast prosthesis is referred to an artificial breast form that gets fit in the bra cup to replace the breast that has been removed. Wearing a prosthesis can be a temporary option for the women before they opt to have breast reconstruction. Many women choose not to get their breast reconstructed. They find wearing a prosthesis an effective and suitable long-term choice.

Whether or not to have a breast reconstruction or wear a prosthesis is a very personal choice and it is totally fine even if women opt to do neither of them.

3. Menopausal symptoms

Menopausal signs are a common side effect of breast cancer treatment. The reason behind this is that breast cancer treatment can stop the effect of the hormones or it can even stop the hormonal production completely.

breast cancer
Breast cancer treatment may spike menopausal symptoms. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Some menopausal symptoms include:

  • Hot flushes
  • Loss of desire
  • Night sweats
  • Vaginal dryness and pain
  • Changes in how you experience orgasm

Weight gain: You may also experience weight gain during and after the treatment. This can happen for several reasons. Some medications can increase appetite; you are less active during treatment; you may eat more due to anxiety or because your routine has changed.

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Weight gain can affect how you feel about your body and may even leave you with low self-esteem and lesser confidence. However, simple changes to your diet, the way you eat and exercise can surely help you lose weight.

Hair loss and regrowth: Hair loss is a distressing side effect of breast cancer treatment (chemotherapy). Hair is an important part of how one feels about oneself and losing it can affect self-esteem and confidence. However, hair loss is a temporary side effect and they usually start to grow back once treatment is finished.

Also Read: Tahira Kashyap Khurrana marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month with a message on self-care

breast cancer
Hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
4. Lymphoedema

Swelling of the hand, arm or breast area due to a build-up of lymph fluid in the surface tissues of the body is known as Lymphoedema. Having lymphoedema in the body can affect you both physically and emotionally. It may affect how you feel about your body, make you feel different as you have to adapt to changes in your appearance. If a woman has lymphoedema she may have to wear a lymphoedema sleeve. Wearing full sleeves tops and dresses will help you cover the area.

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About the Author

Dr Aruna Kalra is a renowned obstetrician, gynaecologist, and laparoscopic surgeon at CK Birla Hospital. She has an experience of more than 23 years. She is an expert in scarless laparoscopic surgeries. Her areas of interest include minimally invasive gynaecological surgeries, gynae oncological surgeries, high-risk pregnancies, and vaginal birth after cesarean. ...Read More

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