I have had a lot of feedback from people who have loved ones in their lives who are going through or have gone through the breast cancer experience. It warms my heart so much to hear from these people, as it really makes me feel as though this blog was a good idea. That it is not only therapeutic for me but, a source of comfort for others. I know that at times it can be a hard read. Breast cancer is a scary and sad experience. I am so proud, though, that my writing is helping others to navigate their own treatment or to deal with a loved one going through this ordeal.

For the people in the latter category, I would like to give a few words of advice.

Breast cancer does not end when the treatment ends. For breast cancer survivors, even those who choose “just to get on with life”, you are forever changed. You can no longer live life as before.
There are aftershocks.

First of all, I have yet to meet a survivor who does not have some sort of physical pain from either scarring, effects of treatment, or whatever hormone therapy they are on. Sometimes indefinitely. Chronic pain is a tough thing. Although I get up every day and “get on with my life”, the daily pain definitely makes it a little bit harder to keep my spirits up. You have to be careful with medication. Since you are dealing with a condition that is not going away, you don’t want to run the risk of narcotic addiction.

There may be some “superwomen” who, after breast cancer treatment, surgery and reconstruction, enter a triathlon, work out vigorously, compete in cycling competitions and the like. But, for most of us, there are things that we can no longer physically do, which can be crushing to the spirit. I can no longer play in the snow with my kids like I used to, I can’t work out with weights, I can’t go on looping roller coasters and I have to be very careful about doing any activity where my arms or hands could be nicked or cut. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

These may seem like insignificant things but, they are more important than you can imagine. The most devastating thing for a breast cancer survivor, in my opinion, is the loss of control over her life. She feels betrayed by her own body. She can do the treatment but, her body will respond the way it responds. She really doesn’t  have control over it. Also, there are so many things that are taken from her; hair, boobs, her fit body, sometimes fertility, innocence. Anything else that is snatched from you is a huge loss.

We also have to deal with doctor’s visits, usually at least twice annually to the oncologist, at least annually to the plastic surgeon and perhaps to the radiation therapist. After being diagnosed, going to the doctor is ALWAYS nerve-wracking. Remember, even if your loved one is not having any symptoms, she is definitely worrying when a doctor appointment is approaching. She is always expecting that something could possibly be amiss, that the cancer could have returned. Always.

Then there are the tests. The blood tests that include tumor markers, the CT scans, the MRIs, the PET scans. All of these are emotionally draining and exhausting. Waiting for results is a torture unlike any other.

I also had to go through testing before every single surgery. I’ve had twenty since 2002. So, I consider myself an expert and believe me, it never gets easier.

I guess my point is that you may feel like once the treatment is over and the cancer is gone, your loved one should be able to get on with life. Your biggest wish for her is that she DOES get on with her life. It is what she is wishing, also. But, you also have to remember that she is most likely nursing a huge Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and needs your patience and understanding.

Personally, I know that I don’t always sound rational when I am obsessing about a bump that turns out to be a pimple, a cyst or just part of my armpit. Or when I have heartburn and think my cancer has come back in my esophagus, or when my scar tissue feels a tiny bit different and it is no longer scar tissue in my mind but, a new tumor.  My family never makes me feel crazy.

They understand why I am the way that I am and love me anyway.

With the exception of her very life, this is the greatest gift you can give a breast cancer survivor.