For most people, the cancer experience doesn’t end when treatment ends. Life after breast cancer treatment can present its own challenges. You may have mixed feelings when treatment ends, and worry that every ache and pain means the cancer is coming back.
Some people say that they feel pressure to return to ‘normal life’, but they don’t want life to return to how it was before cancer. Take some time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes, and re-establish a new daily routine at your own pace.
After treatment for early breast cancer, you may need to manage some ongoing or late side effects. These side effects can vary. Some people will experience only a few issues, while others will have more. You can read more about some of the common issues below.
Cancer Council 13 11 20 can help you connect with other people who have had cancer, and provide you with more information about the emotional and practical aspects of living well after cancer.
Learn more about:
- Changes to appearance (includes wigs, breast forms and prostheses)
- Nerve pain
- Menopause and fertility
- Sexuality and intimacy
- Follow-up appointments
After your treatment, you will need regular check-ups with your GP or specialist to confirm that the cancer hasn’t come back, to see how you are managing on hormone therapy if this is part of your treatment, and to review your overall wellbeing. Your doctor will examine you and ask about any symptoms you may have had.
Most women will have a mammogram every year. Women who have had breast cancer cannot return to BreastScreen for five years after their diagnosis, so your doctor will organise diagnostic mammograms and ultrasounds.
If your doctor is concerned the cancer has come back, you may have a CT scan, chest x-ray or bone scan.
Timing of appointments
For the first year or two after treatment, you will usually have follow-up appointments every 3–6 months. Check-ups will become less frequent over time if you have no further problems.
If you have any health problems between follow-up appointments, let your doctor know immediately. You can also see your GP if you have any questions and for ongoing support.
Dealing with feelings of sadness
If you have continued feelings of sadness, have trouble getting up in the morning or have lost motivation to do things that previously gave you pleasure, you may be experiencing depression. This is quite common among people who have had cancer.
Talk to your GP, as counselling or medication – even for a short time – may help. Some people are able to get a Medicare rebate for sessions with a psychologist. Ask your doctor if you are eligible.
The organisation beyondblue has information about coping with depression and anxiety. See beyondblue.org.au or call 1300 22 46 36 to order a fact sheet.