Alexandra Russo, MSW, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and oncology therapist at Life With Cancer, a program of the Inova Schar Cancer Institute that aims to enhance the quality of life for those with cancer by providing education, information and support.
Reaching the end of breast cancer treatment is a major milestone. While there are plenty of reasons to celebrate, many women are surprised to experience a mix of emotions when treatment ends.
That’s totally normal.
Here’s what you can expect as you approach the finish line – and what you can do to move into your future healthy and happy.
As treatment ends, some women are able to jump right back into their pre-illness activities and routines. But many people can’t. Don’t be discouraged if it takes time to regain physical abilities and stamina. As you recover, friends and family might not realize that you still have limitations. Don’t be afraid to ask for continued support as you heal.
Body image concerns are common after breast cancer. Surgery can physically change your appearance, and the experience of having cancer might make you feel your body has let you down. On top of that, some treatments (especially hormone therapy) can affect your interest in physical intimacy.
If you’re in a relationship, it helps to discuss these feelings with your partner. If you’re dating, try talking to a friend or family member about how you’ll bring up your medical history to a potential romantic partner. Meanwhile, mind-body activities such as yoga, tai chi and mindfulness meditation help many women reconnect with their bodies and heal both emotionally and physically.
Fear & Anxiety
Cancer treatment includes frequents tests, scans and appointments. That regimented schedule can help patients feel they’re taking control of their health. But after treatment ends, many women feel adrift and anxious about cancer coming back.
If that’s you, talk to your medical team about your concerns. Your doctor can help create a plan for continued monitoring and care, including a list of what follow-up tests you should have when. Mark those dates on the calendar so you can see your plan of action at a glance.
Sadness & Mixed Emotions
After trying hard to stay strong during treatment, many women are overwhelmed by feelings like sadness, worry, anger and guilt when active treatment ends.
Many women find comfort from support groups, where they can talk to people with similar concerns. If it feels like your negative feelings are taking over or preventing you from doing things you’d normally find joy in, you might also benefit from seeing a mental health professional. Cancer is a life-changing experience, and it’s OK to ask for help.
Inova Life With Cancer provides free support groups and counseling services as well as exercise and wellness classes to anyone touched by cancer, whether or not they are a patient at Inova.
Discover how Inova tackles Breast Cancer at inova.org/gameplan.