Living With Breast Cancer
Getting Through Treatment
Getting Through Treatment
Going through treatment for breast cancer is no easy feat. We won’t tell you we know how you feel. But we can help guide you through this difficult chapter in your life by providing you with resources and support, based on your particular needs as a young woman going through cancer treatment. We’ve come up Care Guidelines for Young Women and an entire product line called Give-A-Care to help with side-effects (bonus: it helps friends and family understand what you’re dealing with too).
Make an informed decision. How breast cancer is treated depends on the type of cancer you have and other variables specific to you.Your doctor will discuss with you your treatment options and their various side effects. Understand them and make informed choices by asking questions, voicing your concerns and weighing the benefits against the risks.
Be sure to involve your key support people in the discussion. They often see and hear things you don’t.Playing an active role in your breast cancer care and including your inner circle of support can be your greatest source of empowerment throughout your treatment.
Coping with Chemo
Getting through chemotherapy can be a particularly challenging aspect of cancer treatment. And as part of our LiveLaughLearn video series, Stephanie, from our network, shares her top tips for getting through chemo treatments.
- Comfy Chemo Outfit – Wear something comfy and cozy for your long days at the hospital. Add a splash of colour or fun accessory for a little lift.
- Numb Your Port – If you’re having a lot of treatments, or have bad veins, you will likely get a port to receive your chemo infusions. About 90 minutes to 2 hours before your treatment numb the port with a numbing cream like EMLA cream.
- Minty Fresh – When you have a port, it needs to be flushed before you can start your treatment (and also for blood draws). This causes a weird taste to occur in your mouth.
- Cool Your Mouth – Most chemo wards should have popsicles in the freezer, or at the very least, some ice cubes. Sucking on something icy while receiving your chemo is thought to reduce the likelihood of developing nasty mouth sores.
Watch the video below and read the accompanying blog post to get the inside scoop.
Coping With Radiation
Although some people find radiation an easier go than chemotherapy, it’s still no walk in the park. We’ve come up with a few tips as you navigate your way through this step. Don’t forget to consult with your radiation oncologist before trying any new products or remedies.
Tips for getting through radiation:
- Moisturize your skin after each treatment with a water-based moisturizer. Check with your radiation oncologist to see if there is a specific type or brand of moisturizer they prefer you use. Stick to something mild and fragrance-free.
- After a few weeks, you may develop some itching. If the itching is fairly mild, try aloe vera or an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. If the itching worsens, talk to your doctor who should be able to prescribe something more effective.
- If possible, go braless whenever you can to prevent irritation around the breast area. It’s also a good idea to stick to loose clothes and t-shirts. You might have to sacrifice fashion for comfort for a bit – but you’ll be glad you did.
- After radiation, your radiated skin will be more sensitive to the sun. Try to avoid spending too much time in direct sunlight. If you are outside, use sunblock. You can also purchase a rash guard/cover-up to wear when you go swimming, which will give you full coverage protection.
Read the accompanying blog to get the inside scoop.
Side Effects of Treatment
Treatment side effects, and the fear of them, can be the source of major physical and emotional stress for young women with breast cancer.
Because they vary in intensity with each person, it’s hard to know exactly what you’re facing when you’re weighing your treatment options. Worst possible scenarios (we all go there) and fear of the unknown can make us crazy with worry, but many treatment side effects can be managed.
Talk to your doctor or nurse about the possible side effects of your specific treatment. Knowing more can help you feel in control of what’s happening to your body.
In addition to the common side effects of cancer treatment, there are some potential side effects that might affect you differently as a young woman with breast cancer. Check out our Care Guidelines for Young Women and our Give-A-Care product line to get informed and empowered.
The fertility effect
Chemotherapy can have temporary or permanent effects on your fertility. These effects vary from drug to drug and person to person. You may have other menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, during treatment. But all of these effects may well end when your treatment ends, returning you to a normal menstrual cycle. In some cases, you may also be able to preserve your fertility before beginning treatment.
If you are concerned about the potential risk of fertility loss, talk to your doctor about what can be done to help and ask for a referral to a fertility specialist who has experience with cancer patients. It’s important fertility is addressed before treatment begins, which is why Rethink is working to have our Care Guidelines for Young Women implemented at every cancer center.
Changes to your body
Treatment for breast cancer can cause changes to your body and appearance and for a young woman, we know this side effect can be particularly challenging. Whether you’re left with a small scar or you’ve had an entire breast removed, your feelings about it are unique to you and how you choose to proceed is a decision you make for yourself.
Many women who have undergone mastectomies and even lumpectomies opt for breast reconstruction. If you’re looking for more information on breast reconstruction, check out BRA Day to learn more about your options.
You may prefer to wear a breast prosthesis or go flat. If you decide to choose no reconstruction, you may be interested in Breastcancer.org’s helpful article about making this decision and how to overcome certain issues that might pop up.
Trying to figure out how to shop for a bathing suit after a mastectomy? Check out Stacey’s LiveLaughLearn video with helpful tips:
Another unfortunate side effect of many types of chemotherapy is hair loss, which can include the loss of brows and lashes. This side effect can be one of the hardest to cope with for young women, as the loss of hair can be the first concrete sign that you have a serious illness, and may signal to others that you have cancer. Although this can be a challenging time, hair loss is almost always temporary. And in the meantime, you can try out different options—wigs, headscarves, accessories, hats—and see what works, and what makes you feel good. If you’ve always wanted to see what life would be like as a blonde, this might be the perfect opportunity! Many women also choose to embrace the bald, and go out ‘naked.’ There is no right or wrong way to deal with hair loss, so go with whatever option feels right.
Watch the video below to learn some tips and tricks when it comes to hair loss and cancer treatment.
Changes in Sexual Health
You may be required to take certain drugs for breast cancer treatment that can cause vaginal dryness or other menopausal symptoms. Many young women may be concerned about how this will affect their sex lives and intimacy with their partners. There are various steps you can take and products you can use to help with this side effect, but remember to always check with your doctor first.
Many cancer centres also now offer support for dealing with sexual changes due to cancer treatment. If you’d like to speak to a professional about what you’re feeling and learn ways to cope, don’t sit in silence – ask your doctor for a referral.
Want to hear more about sexual health and cancer? Check out our video series and get the 411 from the experts below.