Breast Cancer Challenges You; Breast Cancer Changes You

Many of us who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer are often asked about the changes that breast cancer brings. The women I speak to, that are survivors, share that the biggest and often times scariest change that breast cancer brings is the loss of feeling in control of one's life, body, and future. Most of us diagnosed with breast cancer initially scramble for ways of feeling in control again.

Fear, anger, and confusion compound feelings of being out of control.

Each of us is challenged to find the coping mechanisms to get through the anxiety of diagnostic tests to determine the size, location and the possible spread of the breast cancer. It takes being able to focus and remain clear-headed  to make a decision about a surgery that will remove your breast(s) and leave you flat with the option to use breast prosthetics or reconstruct your breast(s)  following  a mastectomy, or bilateral mastectomy. For many women, lumpectomy is also an option. It includes surgery to remove the tumor and a margin of tissue around the affected area, followed by radiation therapy.

If you have an early stage breast cancer, and choose to have a lumpectomy you will need to make a decision about whether to have External Beam radiation with treatments that can take 3-6+ weeks or Mammosite which can be accomplished in two treatments a day for one week.

Questions that need answers before you can decide:

  • What are the pros and cons of each method ?
  • Am I a candidate for Mammosite if my hospital or treatment center offers it ?
  • Does my insurance company cover both types of radiation?  
  • What kind of a physical outcome can I expect from each of these procedures?

The treatment decisions that breast cancer brings are followed by family, financial, employment, and personal decisions that need to be made.

Once breast cancer surgery is over and treatment has begun, our challenge is to cope with feeling ill in ways that most of us have never encountered before. Fatigue is a frequent companion. Hair loss brings its own challenges and choices. Some of us choose not to hide our hair loss and are comfortable with not covering our heads. Others learn to wear a wig so it looks natural and not wiggy.

Most of us cope with the middle of the night “What Ifs” when it seems that everyone is asleep but us; when our minds run tapes on a continuous feed loop covering the same content over, and over until we get too exhausted to think and fall asleep.

Somehow, most of us are successful at doing it all. When treatment ends, the hard work of living our lives to the fullest needs to begin  The challenge…finding ways to live our lives having experienced the physical and emotional changes that breast cancer has brought to our lives.

Most of us make the adjustment to the new us. Given the coping mechanisms each survivor has had to develop in order to get through active breast cancer treatment, it is not surprising that many of us are successful in transitioning to a new beginning .

 Getting on with our lives with a new sense of purpose, and reinventing ourselves comes from focusing on strengths and talents that were always there. Yes, there are changes in us. Time is precious to us; it is not to be wasted  Looking our best is still important, but our focus is on doing things that make us feel our best.

Sometimes the sense of vigilance that comes from living by a schedule of routine follow up visits to surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists and the usual blood work and other tests leaves us yearning for the “Un Days”; the days when no one is examining us or asking the same questions asked so many times before.

Learning to manage fear is necessary for our quality of life. One day it comes to us that the things that used to upset us to the point of ruining our day, or robbing us of a night’s sleep before our breast cancer diagnosis, don’t pack the same punch anymore.

Major changes include knowing who is there for us and who isn’t, and knowing what matters to us and will always matter to us.

Each of us copes with the changes that breast cancer continues to bring into our lives as survivors. For many, the support of other survivors, friends and family makes all the difference.

Do survivors regain that sense of being in control of their lives after breast cancer? I can only answer for myself. I have come to accept that I control how I care for myself both physically and emotionally. Beyond that I can only control how I react and cope with what happens to me, when it happens to me. That will have to be enough. Breast cancer has taught me that.

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