Sage Bolte, PhD, LCSW, OSW-C, CST, is a licensed clinical social worker and executive director of Life with Cancer, which provides support and education to anyone affected by cancer. Life With Cancer is a program of Inova Health System, the official breast cancer awareness partner of the Washington Redskins. In addition to her role as director, Bolte provides individual, couples and family counseling and facilitates several support groups and programs for people with cancer. Read Dr. Bolte’s profile
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s an amazing feeling to finally get the “all-clear” diagnosis. But moving on from cancer is a process that doesn’t happen overnight. And for many women with early stage breast cancer, it isn’t until after the treatment ends that the emotional and physical healing truly begins.
If you or a loved one is figuring out life after breast cancer, these tips can help you navigate the journey.
- Have Realistic Expectations.
After cancer, survivors (and their family members) might expect to just pick up where they left off. In fact, it is common for depression and anxiety to occur when treatment ends. Body-image issues are also common as people deal with scars, hair loss and weight changes. Fun? No. Normal? Totally. Remember, it takes time to feel like yourself again. Be gentle and gracious with yourself (or your loved one) in the meantime. Give yourself time to redefine your needs as often as you need to–sometimes, even daily.
- Face Fear.
During treatment, patients often see their care team every week. Afterwards, they might have appointments every 3 or 6 months. Many people worry whether they’re truly okay. If you’re worried, talk to your doctor, nurse or social worker to let them know you’re having fears. They can help clear up myths and misconceptions and help find strategies that allow you to feel more in control.
- Take Care of Yourself.
You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: Exercise, a healthy diet, sleep and limited alcohol contribute to a healthy recovery. Exercise is especially important, not just for overall good health but because it helps fight fatigue as you recover.
- Ask For (Or Offer) Help.
During treatment, friends and family members often help out by making meals, doing laundry or carpooling kids. Too often, that kind of practical help comes to a screeching halt when treatment ends. Truth is, fatigue lasts well after treatment–especially if you’re suddenly returning to work or taking on more household tasks. Don’t be too shy to ask for help. Often, your friends want to help but are waiting for you to tell them what you need and may not understand that much of the recovery starts when treatment ends. And if you’re that friend, ask what you can do to be helpful as your loved one gets back into a groove.
- Talk To Someone Who Gets It.
Connecting with other survivors can be very helpful, both online and face-to-face. Support groups can also be a great way to connect. The key is finding a group that is moderated by a licensed professional. Support groups aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay. On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of people who thought they weren’t support-group types give it a try and get a lot out of them.
- Treat Yourself.
Do something good for yourself every day, whether it’s 5 minutes of deep breathing, 10 minutes walking outside or an extra 15 minutes of sleep. Whatever it is, ask for support from your family to make sure it gets done.
- Learn More.
Life With Cancer offers no-cost services to cancer patients and their families, regardless of where they live and where they’re treated. We offer counseling, support groups, fitness classes, mindfulness and meditation, art therapy and more. Learn more about Life With Cancer.