Recover Making Sense of Breast Cancer Understanding the Impact of Breast Cancer
Just hearing the words “You have cancer” has an impact on your life. It brings instant stress, anxiety and fear. Once you get over the initial shock of your diagnosis, you immediately -- whether it’s a conscious effort or not --transition into survival mode.
Then you forge ahead with treatment in the fight of your life to clear any and all hurdles along the way in order to overcome the disease. You know that the treatment is doing its job to eradicate cancer from your body. So you proceed with confidence, and faith.
Going through breast cancer treatment adds a whole other dimension to the experience. It can impact your life in many ways beyond just the physical changes that may occur from surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. To say the least, the experience can affect how you view yourself, your life and your relationships.
Every woman’s experience with breast cancer is different, and it can vary from the type of diagnosis to the type of treatment she receives. Some women may experience a significant loss of quality of life after treatment. Others may experience no significant change at all.
But, do you know what is actually happening to your body as a result of treatment, especially if you have chemotherapy and radiation? Not from the side effects associated with each type while you’re undergoing treatment, but the after effects or lingering effects that may result. Ever thought about that?
While chemotherapy and radiation are effective treatments in killing cancerous cells, they may also kill whatever healthy cells are still left. However, different chemotherapy drugs have different short-term and long- term side effects.
Have you ever noticed that there are certain things about you physically, mentally and emotionally that may be different than before your diagnosis and treatment? Are there things that you find more challenging to do now than before your breast cancer treatment?
Of course, every woman responds differently to breast cancer treatment and may not suffer from significant side effects. But often women experience complications from treatment further down the road.
Aside from fatigue and skin discoloration, there are relatively few lingering or long-term side effects associated with radiation therapy. Chemotherapy is usually the culprit in what happens after treatment is over. Fighting cancer and taking chemo or radiation exhaust many energy reserves in the body.
In some cases, as a result of chemotherapy, women may encounter infertility, sexual dysfunction or become menopausal. Some chemotherapy agents may also affect specific organs (heart, bladder, kidneys, lungs) or the nervous system in the following ways:
Nervous System Effects
Chemotherapy can interfere with brain function and can cause tiredness, confusion and mood changes. A familiar term for this effect is “chemonesia” or “chemo brain.” This is typically temporary, but in some cases it could take some time to recover and regain your cognitive thinking skills. It may be a bit scary at first, but there are ways to help you recover from this and rebuild your capacity for cognitive thinking.
Some chemotherapy agents damage the peripheral nervous system. Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can include tingling, burning, weakness, numbness and/or pain in the hands and feet, as well as weak or sore muscles.
Effects on Organs
The effects of some chemotherapy agents on bladder and liver functions can be followed by blood tests, while heart function is generally followed by echocardiograms. Damage to other organs, such as the lungs, can manifest itself as coughing or breathlessness.
It is important to be mindful of any lingering effects from your treatment or any physical, mental or emotional changes you may experience on your road to recovery. You should discuss any long-term effects that may result from your treatment with your physician, gain insight into what you can do about it and develop a recovery plan.
You can share your knowledge and wisdom about your recovery in order to help, inspire, and empower other survivors in our Partner Forum.