6 Tips to Support a Loved One After Breast Cancer Recovery

Very helpful information…Once a cancer patient is in recovery most people think that the worst is over, and it is as far as treatments and surgeries are concerned. But recovery involves not only dealing with and healing from the physical effects, but the mental effects as well. As the first sentence of this article states, “Even if your person appears strong on the outside, understand that their mind and body are still recovering from a trauma.”  Breast cancer and what a patient has to endure to survive it, is indeed a trauma, so it is very important that their support system is there for them more than ever when moving into the recovery phase.

Recovery from cancer is not easy, it takes time to navigate through all of the experiences and emotions that come up during what seems like endless chemotherapy and radiation treatments, blood draws, scans and surgeries. Coming to terms with the damage that everything I have been through has done to my body and mind is overwhelming at times. Every time I look in the mirror it is impossible to ignore my slowly growing hair, the scars on my breasts and the discolored skin under my left arm, from radiation treatments. I know that as time passes my hair will grow back and the scars and discoloration will fade, and maybe as I see those changes then I will feel like I am moving through my recovery instead of feeling like I do now, impatient and stuck.

I have to say that with Covid-19 limiting socialization and disrupting life as we know it, there is a stress that normally wouldn’t be an issue. I would be working on getting back to a normal life, life before breast cancer, and I am, but I am also dealing with the isolation and depression that the virus has brought to most of us at one time or another in the last few months. Normally, I would still be working at my job, and not laid off, which really helps keep me focused in all aspects of my life. I would also be making plans to spend much needed time with friends and family as I miss them terribly and being around them would help my recovery in so many ways. So in the meantime as I wait to find out when I will be going back to work and we finally get to a time when it is safe to get together again with those that we love; I am doing what I can each day to get through these uncertain times as best as I can.

Medically reviewed by Krystal Cascetta, MD — Written by Theodora Blanchfield on July 6, 2020

Even if your person appears strong on the outside, understand that their mind and body are still recovering from a trauma.

If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you may remember what it felt like immediately after your loss: friends checking in on you, bringing you food, and generally showing up for you. But as weeks fade into months and months into years, those check ins drop off — or disappear altogether.

This feeling is all too familiar to some breast cancer survivors who may suddenly feel alone as they struggle to adjust to their new normal.

Do you want to be there for your friend but have no idea where to start? We talked to mental health experts who work with cancer survivors to get the scoop on how you can continue to show up.

1. Respect their trauma and grief

“Loved ones should understand that a great deal of loss has occurred for the survivor,” says Renee Exelbert, PhD, CFT, a psycho-oncologist and breast cancer survivor.

This includes loss of safety in their body, loss of safety in the world, and sometimes, the loss of physical body parts, or the loss of prior functioning, she explains.

With that loss comes relearning how to relate in the world.

Even if your person appears strong on the outside, “understand that their mind and body are still recovering from a trauma,” says Gabriela Gutierrez, LMFT, clinical oncology therapist at Loma Linda University Cancer Center.

The physical loss associated with breast cancer can lead to a kind of identity rebuilding, she says.

“Women are learning how to still see themselves as women even after their breasts have been altered or removed all together,” Gutierrez says.

2. Understand fear of recurrence

You may be wondering why your friend isn’t being more celebratory. After all, they just got a clean bill of health and survived cancer.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, up to 50 percent of breast cancer survivors worry their cancer will come back.

“This fear of recurrence is a very common phenomenon that patients face as their bodies learn how to adjust back into the ‘normal world’ and as their bodies process the physical and emotional trauma they just endured.”

3. Ask what their needs are

It may be tempting to want to jump in and try to “fix” things or to try to take the burden off of them, but now is the time for your loved one to tell you what they need.

Because their process was so emotionally grueling, there are all kinds of things that may be innocuous to you but a trigger to them, such as a food they couldn’t eat while they were sick.

“Careful listening will demonstrate the desire to help the survivor feel connected to and understood,” says Exelbert. “Knowing that someone wants to help you is extremely meaningful.”

“But if they’re feeling stuck knowing what they need, you might want to offer to help them get back on track with exercise or other forms of self-care,” she says.

4. Continue showing up

More than anything, your person just needs to know that you’ll continue to be there for them.

“Remind them to be patient with themselves, and to have compassion for themselves,” says Gutierrez. “Remind them it is OK to bring up hard conversations with you, so long as you feel like you are a safe person to do so with.”

They may be afraid to bring up these heavy emotions with you, and they need to know they’re not a burden to you.

5. Understand their priorities may have shifted

You’ve been running with your friend for 10 years, and now that she’s healthy again you’re wondering why she’s not interested in running.

When someone has gone through a traumatic experience like an illness, perspectives and priorities will shift. Understand that it’s not personal.

“Loved ones need to be aware that the survivor may not place the same value or importance on previously shared values, relationships, or stressors,” says Exelbert. “What was at one time significant to the survivor, may no longer carry relevance at all.”

6. Take care of yourself

How can you take care of someone else if you’re not taking care of yourself?

“Many caregivers feel they do not deserve a voice as they were not the patient, but cancer is a relational illness, and your experience matters as well,” says Gutierrez.

You were also part of the emotional cancer journey, and your feelings are valid, too.

If processing your own grief and trauma around the experience is too much for you, consider finding a therapist to help you work through it.

Breast Cancer Glossary: 41 Terms You Should Know

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer it was unimaginably overwhelming in so many ways. My head was spinning with questions and fears and like many newly diagnosed patients, I felt like I needed to quickly learn a new language. Little by little I began to understand my diagnosis and what it meant for me as a breast cancer patient. Now, 16 months later, I have come across all of these terms either through my own experiences, discussions with my doctors or by reading the endless sources of information that I have discovered along the way. In the beginning of my journey it would have been so helpful to have all of the information below in one place for me to reference. I hope by sharing this article I am able to help answer some of the questions you might have as a breast cancer patient or a caregiver to a breast cancer patient.

At the bottom of this article, Monica suggests writing your cancer story basics using this guide. I am finding that quite often people will ask me for this information whether it is in a new forum that I have joined or during a conversation I am having with someone new. I have included my cancer story basics here in this blog post and on my “About Me” page.

My Cancer Story Basics: I was Dx at age 51 w/ ER/PR+, HER2-, IDC. I have had ACT, Rads, and I am on a 10 yr plan w/ HT, Anastrozole. My cancerversary is the date of Dx on February 25th, 2019. I have had a partial mastectomy, port-a-cath insertion, reconstruction w/reduction mammoplasty and insertion of breast prosthesis following reconstruction.

The author of this article, Monica Haro, is the community guide for the breast cancer support app BC Healthline. This particular app has been an amazing source of support for me both while I was in the middle of fighting breast cancer and also now that I am learning to live life as a survivor.

Medically reviewed by Krystal Cascetta, MD — Written by Monica Haro on July 6, 2020

Utterly overwhelmed is how I felt when I faced the uncertainty and devastation of my breast cancer diagnosis 5 years ago.

I dove into online communities to connect, observe, research, and be heard. When I did, I was lost on some of the language. There were so many terms, acronyms, and abbreviations to learn.

Some things that now seem obvious to understand weren’t while dealing with a brain processing the new trauma of my cancer diagnosis.

If you’re wondering what in the world a red devil, foob, expander, and ooph is, I’ve got you.

Here’s Why Exercise Is Crucial in Preventing, Treating Cancer

I struggle with getting exercise into my daily routine not because I am too busy, but because I am still dealing with fatigue from over a year of fighting breast cancer. Everything about my journey has been exhausting both physically and mentally. Luckily I am on the other side of treatments and endless doctors appointments so my energy level is slowly improving. Most days I try to get some form of activity in, even if it is just cleaning part of the house or playing with my dog….it all counts and I make sure to remind myself of that.

Written by Matt Berger on October 20, 2019

Strength training two to three times a week along with aerobic exercise three times a week is recommended for cancer prevention.
  • A panel of experts has released guidelines stating that regular exercise can help prevent cancer as well as help people undergoing cancer treatment.
  • The experts recommend 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 times a week and strength training 2 to 3 times a week.
  • Experts say exercise can help prevent cancer by reducing inflammation, keeping weight under control, and boosting the immune system.

Kathryn Schmitz is seeking a paradigm shift.

Schmitz, a professor of public health specializing in cancer at Penn State University, thinks the perception of the ties between exercise and cancer is where the perception of the ties between exercise and heart health was decades ago.

Back then, she said, getting a patient out of bed and moving after a heart attack would be criticized. Today, the benefits of exercise to heart health and recovery are well known.

A similar consensus is emerging in the way the medical field thinks about cancer.

The latest sign in that shift came this week, with the publication of new guidelines that recommend physicians “prescribe” exercise in efforts to reduce the risk of certain cancers and improve the treatment outcomes and quality of life of those with the disease.

“Today if you asked someone with a dad with colon cancer if he should be exercising they’d probably either say no or they don’t know,” Schmitz told Healthline.

Schmitz co-chaired the roundtable — which included experts from the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Cancer Society, and 15 other groups — that put together the new guidance.

The gist of the guidance, published in three papers this week, is that exercise can contribute to the prevention of bladder, breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and uterine cancer.

The guidelines also state exercise can help improve survival rates for people with breast, colon, and prostate cancer — as well as the quality of life of those people in terms of reducing side effects of cancer treatment.

How much exercise?

The researchers recommend that people with cancer do 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity 3 times a week and strength training such as weights 2 to 3 times a week.

Schmitz said originally the researchers looking into that question sought to find out if there were specific “doses” of exercise that could be tailored to different people with cancer.

But the 30 minutes 3 times a week recommendation seemed to work pretty universally.

They still ended up with their goal of being able to “prescribe exercise like a drug,” Schmitz said. “Just turns out that it’s, say, 600 milligrams for everybody, if you will.”

In terms of cancer prevention, the recommended general physical activity guidelines are at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week.

Schmitz says getting more tailored recommendations for cancer prevention is one of the remaining open questions that ongoing research hopes to help answer.

“We don’t know the exact, optimal dose of exercise needed for cancer prevention,” Alpa Patel, the American Cancer Society’s senior scientific director for epidemiology research, told Healthline. “But we know from the evidence to date that the more you do the better.”

Why exercise works

Patel, lead author of the paper that covered the prevention aspects of the new guidance, said how exactly exercise affects cancer prevention is severalfold.

That includes exercise’s effects on reducing inflammation, helping regulate blood sugar and sex hormones, and improving metabolism and immune function.

“Depending on the specific cancer, one or more of those mechanisms may be more important than the others,” he said. “So, for breast cancer, the benefits of exercise are really driven through the impact on sex hormones.”

“It can also affect cancer development or risk through reducing obesity, a risk factor for many cancers,” said Dr. Crystal Denlinger, an oncologist at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s panel on survivorship guidelines.

She told Healthline that the exact reasons why exercise affects certain cancers in different ways still needs additional research.

The current recommendations do vary a bit based on personal history, Denlinger noted. But, she said, “at this time, there is no one ‘best’ exercise — anything that gets you moving and active is good.”

She said further trials are under way to evaluate how and when exercise can affect cancer treatment.

The effort underway for Schmitz — through an initiative she started at the American College of Sports Medicine — is pushing to get oncologists to assess and advise cancer patients’ physical activity.

“This is an easy, cheap way to give patients less fatigue and a better quality of life,” she said.

15 Foods That Boost the Immune System

With everything going on these days, it doesn’t hurt to add as many of these foods into your diet as possible. For cancer patients, it is particularly important to keep your immune system protected and boosted with good healthy foods.

Medically reviewed by Amy Richter, RD — Written by James Schend — Updated on April 30, 2020

Immune system boosters

Feeding your body certain foods may help keep your immune system strong.

If you’re looking for ways to prevent colds, the flu, and other infections, your first step should be a visit to your local grocery store. Plan your meals to include these 15 powerful immune system boosters.

1. Citrus fruits

wedges of grapefruit, lime, orange, and lemon on top of a turquoise table

Most people turn straight to vitamin C after they’ve caught a cold. That’s because it helps build up your immune system.

Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells, which are key to fighting infections.

Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. With such a variety to choose from, it’s easy to add a squeeze of this vitamin to any meal.

Popular citrus fruits include:

Because your body doesn’t produce or store it, you need daily vitamin C for continued health. The recommended daily amount for most adults is:

  • 75 mg for women
  • 90 mg for men

If you opt for supplements, avoid taking more than 2,000 milligrams (mg) a day.

Also keep in mind that while vitamin C might help you recover from a cold quicker, there’s no evidence yet that it’s effective against the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

2. Red bell peppers

14 red bell peppers on top of a dark wood table

If you think citrus fruits have the most vitamin C of any fruit or vegetable, think again. Ounce for ounce, red bell peppers contain almost 3 times as much vitamin C (127 mgTrusted Source) as a Florida orange (45 mgTrusted Source). They’re also a rich source of beta carotene.

Besides boosting your immune system, vitamin C may help you maintain healthy skin. Beta carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A, helps keep your eyes and skin healthy.

3. Broccoli

hands holding up a bowl full of broccoli

Broccoli is supercharged with vitamins and minerals. Packed with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as fiber and many other antioxidants, broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your plate.

The key to keeping its power intact is to cook it as little as possible — or better yet, not at all. ResearchTrusted Source has shown that steaming is the best way to keep more nutrients in the food.

4. Garlic

cloves of garlic on a wood table

Garlic is found in almost every cuisine in the world. It adds a little zing to food and it’s a must-have for your health.

Early civilizations recognized its value in fighting infections. Garlic may also slow down hardening of the arteries, and there’s weak evidence that it helps lower blood pressure.

Garlic’s immune-boosting properties seem to come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin.

5. Ginger

slices of ginger on a dark wood table table

Ginger is another ingredient many turn to after getting sick. Ginger may help decrease inflammation, which can help reduce a sore throat and inflammatory illnesses. Ginger may help with nausea as well.

While it’s used in many sweet desserts, ginger packs some heat in the form of gingerol, a relative of capsaicin.

Ginger may also decrease chronic painTrusted Source and might even possess cholesterol-lowering propertiesTrusted Source.

6. Spinach

spinach leaves in a silver pot with a handle

Spinach made our list not just because it’s rich in vitamin C — it’s also packed with numerous antioxidants and beta carotene, which may both increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems.

Similar to broccoli, spinach is healthiest when it’s cooked as little as possible so that it retains its nutrients. However, light cooking makes it easier to absorb the vitamin A and allows other nutrients to be released from oxalic acid, an antinutrient. 

7. Yogurt

yogurt topped with seeds and granola and placed in a small white and blue floral bowl

Look for yogurts that have the phrase “live and active cultures” printed on the label, like Greek yogurt. These cultures may stimulate your immune system to help fight diseases.

Try to get plain yogurts rather than the kind that are flavored and loaded with sugar. You can sweeten plain yogurt yourself with healthy fruits and a drizzle of honey instead.

Yogurt can also be a great source of vitamin D, so try to select brands fortified with this vitamin. Vitamin D helps regulate the immune system and is thought to boost our body’s natural defenses against diseases.

Clinical trials are even in the works to study its possible effects on COVID-19.

8. Almonds

unroasted almonds in a dark-colored bowl on top of beige fabric

When it comes to preventing and fighting off colds, vitamin E tends to take a backseat to vitamin C. However, this powerful antioxidant is key to a healthy immune system.

It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it requires the presence of fat to be absorbed properly. Nuts, such as almonds, are packed with the vitamin and also have healthy fats.

Adults only need about 15 mg of vitamin E each day. A half-cup serving of almonds, which is about 46 whole, shelled almonds, provides around 100 percentTrusted Source of the recommended daily amount.

9. Sunflower seeds

sunflower seeds in a clear jar on top of a turquoise table

Sunflower seeds are full of nutrients, including phosphorousmagnesium, and vitamins B-6 and E.

Vitamin E is important in regulating and maintaining immune system function. Other foods with high amounts of vitamin E include avocados and dark leafy greens.

Sunflower seeds are also incredibly high in selenium. Just 1 ounce contains nearly halfTrusted Source the selenium that the average adult needs daily. A variety of studies, mostly performed on animals, have looked at its potential to combat viral infections such as swine flu (H1N1).

10. Turmeric

turmeric powder, turmeric roots, and turmeric supplements on top of a turquoise and white plate

You may know turmeric as a key ingredient in many curries. This bright yellow, bitter spice has also been used for years as an anti-inflammatory in treating both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

ResearchTrusted Source shows that high concentrations of curcumin, which gives turmeric its distinctive color, can help decrease exercise-induced muscle damage. Curcumin has promise as an immune booster (based on findings from animal studies) and an antiviral. More research is needed.

11. Green tea

loose leaf green tea in a white mug on a wrought iron table

Both green and black teas are packed with flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Where green tea really excels is in its levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), another powerful antioxidant.

In studies, EGCG has been shown to enhance immune function. The fermentation process black tea goes through destroys a lot of the EGCG. Green tea, on the other hand, is steamed and not fermented, so the EGCG is preserved.

Green tea is also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine may aid in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your T cells.

12. Papaya

two large papaya halves on a dark wood table

Papaya is another fruit loaded with vitamin C. You can find doubleTrusted Source the daily recommended amount of vitamin C in a single medium fruit. Papayas also have a digestive enzyme called papain that has anti-inflammatory effects.

Papayas have decent amounts of potassium, magnesium, and folate, all of which are beneficial to your overall health.

13. Kiwi

whole kiwi fruits and two kiwi halves in a metal basket with handles

Like papayas, kiwis are naturally full of a ton of essential nutrients, including folate, potassium, vitamin K, and vitamin C.

Vitamin C boosts the white blood cells to fight infection, while kiwi’s other nutrients keep the rest of your body functioning properly.

14. Poultry

uncooked whole chicken on a metal pan surrounded by salt flakes and a white and blue plaid rag

When you’re sick and you reach for chicken soup, it’s more than just the placebo effect that makes you feel better. The soup may help lower inflammation, which could improve symptoms of a cold.

Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, is high in vitamin B-6. About 3 ounces of light turkey or chicken meat contains nearly one-third of your daily recommended amount of B-6.

Vitamin B-6 is an important player in many of the chemical reactions that happen in the body. It’s also vital to the formation of new and healthy red blood cells.

Stock or broth made by boiling chicken bones contains gelatin, chondroitin, and other nutrients helpful for gut healing and immunity.

15. Shellfish

fresh crab and half of a lemon on a white plate placed on a table

Shellfish isn’t what jumps to mind for many who are trying to boost their immune system, but some types of shellfish are packed with zinc.

Zinc doesn’t get as much attention as many other vitamins and minerals, but our bodies need it so that our immune cells can function as intended.

Varieties of shellfish that are high in zinc include:

  • oysters
  • crab
  • lobster
  • mussels

Keep in mind that you don’t want to have more than the daily recommended amount of zinc in your diet:

  • 11 mg for adult men
  • 8 mg for most adult women

Too much zinc can actually inhibit immune system function.

More ways to prevent infections

Variety is the key to proper nutrition. Eating just one of these foods won’t be enough to help fight off the flu or other infections, even if you eat it constantly. Pay attention to serving sizes and recommended daily intake so that you don’t get too much of a single vitamin and too little of others.

Eating right is a great start, and there are other things you can do to protect you and your family from the flu, cold, and other illnesses.

Start with these flu prevention basics and then read these 7 tips for flu-proofing your home. Perhaps most importantly, get your annual flu vaccine to protect yourself and others.

8 Exercise Routines That Don’t Involve a Gym

A long time ago I had a gym membership with a friend of mine and eventually that friend stopped coming to the gym, even no showing our trainer. I kept my membership and continued to go to the gym but as soon as my membership was up I decided to find a way to workout at home. I have done a few of the suggestions below and I have found that a gym is not needed. Now with online classes both live and on demand and affordable home equipment, it is easy and convenient to workout at home. My workout schedule has been on and off over the past year due to extreme fatigue from treatments, generally not feeling well and having multiple surgeries. I intend on getting back to regular workouts soon and in the meantime I have been working on keeping my eating as healthy as possible so I am steadily losing weight. If I can do it, you can do it….there is always something you can do.

By Lorna Collier Last Updated: May 8, 2019

Skip the Gym and Get Fit at Home

You want to exercise, you really do, but it’s tough to fit a trip to the gym into your jam-packed daily schedule. Not to mention gym memberships can be expensive. Or it may be intimidating to think about working out next to pumped-up hard bodies if you’re just looking to stay fit. Whatever your reason, avoiding the gym doesn’t have to mean giving up exercise. Try these tips to reach your 30 minutes of daily activity outside of a fitness center. 

1. Video Workouts

Want to avoid spending money on fitness DVDs? Many local libraries have collections of workout videos you can check out for free. You can also buy used copies through online classifieds or garage sales. Streaming sites like YouTube or your cable’s on-demand service can also be budget-friendly sources of video workouts. Government agencies like the American Council on Exercise and the Centers for Disease Control also offer free online exercise videos. Seniors can get a free exercise DVD tailored to older participants from the National Institutes of Health. 

2. Exercise Videogames

Videogame platforms like the popular Wii Fit for Nintendo use technology to track your body’s movements, so you can play games like tennis or golf virtually, as well as ride bikes, box, and dance. One study showed that participants burned more calories playing Wii’s boxing module for 30 minutes than through brisk walking. Exer-games can be a fun way to stay fit at home, though you will need to use them regularly and with intensity. Along with the Nintendo Wii, you can find exer-games for PlayStation and Xbox, too. 

3. Home Gyms

These days, it’s possible to build your own home gym on any size budget. You can buy firsthand from sporting goods and fitness stores or score used equipment from garage sales, resale shops, or online resources like Craigslist. Friends or relatives also may want to find a new home for the treadmill that’s taking up dust in their basement, so let them know you’re looking. Many discount stores carry small exercise items, such as fitness balls, jump ropes, and resistance bands, making it convenient to complete your home gym on your weekly shopping runs.

4. DIY Equipment at Home

You don’t even necessarily have to buy equipment to exercise at home. Do you have stairs? Voila! You have a StairMaster. Want to do step training? You can swap out a pricey exercise step for a stepstool or sturdy chair. Large cans of food or 12 packs of soda make effective hand weights. Finally, use your own body as a weight, doing planks, push-ups, lunges, jumping jacks, and balancing poses to increase strength and tone muscle. 

5. Mall Walking

Walking is the easiest, least expensive activity to fit into your day. If you want to get out of the house but don’t have anywhere outside that you’d like to walk, or if the weather is bad, consider becoming a mall walker. Some malls even open early to allow mall walkers to make their way through the halls, which is especially good if you want to avoid slower-moving crowds of shoppers. Keep in mind that for a workout, mall walking is more than just an excuse to window shop. Walk fast enough that singing would be difficult, but not so fast that you can’t talk. 

6. Household Chores

It can be hard to get to chores when you think of them as, well, chores. But as fitness boosters, they’re a sure thing. Vacuuming, scrubbing floors and walls, and many other household tasks can rev up your cardio system or challenge your muscles enough to help you get fit. Outdoor chores like gardening or sweeping the garage count, too. Just keep your mind open to possibilities as you go about your daily tasks and remember to do them energetically enough to break a sweat and get your heart pumping. 

7. Outdoor Clubs

Community clubs and activity groups offer a fun and social alternative to the gym. The Sierra Club, for example, has lists of local hikes, bicycling trips, and other outdoor activities you can join. Search online social sites like Meetup.com for groups and people near you who are interested in outdoor activities like walking, hiking and other outside-the-gym fitness pursuits. For a more intense outdoor workout, try boot camp programs in local parks run by trainers who can provide a gym-level workout outside a traditional gym. 

8. At-Home Personal Trainers

Certified personal trainers don’t only work with clients at gyms. They also make home visits and can design personal workout routines for you in the environment you prefer. You can check with your local fitness club for referrals, or visit personal training professional associations like the American Council on Exercise to find qualified trainers in your area. 

5 Tips for Coping with Fear of Breast Cancer Recurrence

I agree with so much of what this article talks about. Will I ever not worry about recurrence? Probably not, but I can find a place for that worry in my life, somewhere in the background. Some days I am overwhelmed by thoughts of recurrence, usually sparked by a sudden pain in my breast, which I still have from time to time. The pain is not surprising considering I have had three surgeries on my chest, and it takes awhile for the nerves to fire back up, so I try not to over react. My next mammogram is in August, 6 months after finishing radiation, so I will know for sure at that point if I am cancer free.

Medically reviewed by Krystal Cascetta, MD on May 12, 2020 New — Written by Theodora Blanchfield

Fear of breast cancer recurrence is common among survivors — but it doesn’t have to control your life.

For many breast cancer survivors, the fear of recurrence can be all-encompassing.

You may feel guilt for this — like you should feel more grateful for your health — but it’s completely normal to have both gratitude and fear, says Dr. Gabriela Gutierrez, LMFT, clinical oncology therapist at Loma Linda University Cancer Center.

“Cancer is like an earthquake with many aftershocks,” she says. “Just because the big one of is out of the way doesn’t mean the ripples are gone.”

The journey transitions from a physical one to a mental one, and it may be a lifelong battle. In fact, nearly half of patients have some fear of recurrence.

The good news is that you’re not alone and there are ways to cope.

1. Normalize the fear

Unfortunately, fear is part of the journey, says Gutierrez. It’s perfectly normal that you’re feeling this way. In fact, fear means that you care about your life — that you do have hope for the life ahead of you.

And it’s possible you’re feeling the emotions you pushed to the side during treatment, says Lauren Chatalian, LMSW, a therapist at CancerCare.

“In the treatment phase, an individual is just thinking about survivorship,” she says. On the other side, thoughts of the ordeal you just went through and facing that again can be overwhelming.

Now might be a good time to reach out to a therapist or social worker, especially if you didn’t talk to one while going through treatment. They can help you further normalize and process these feelings.

2. Ask for support

You don’t have to go through this alone. Your loved ones are probably also scared and may fear bringing it up.

“Finding ways to bond against fear together can make it more manageable, rather than having individual battles against fear, which can promote isolation,” says Gutierrez.

But it can feel like an isolating experience, especially if you don’t have any other survivors in your life.

ResearchTrusted Source shows that being part of a breast cancer support group can improve quality of life.

Creating connections with people with similar experiences — either in-person or virtually — can help you feel understood. It may also strengthen your relationships with family and friends by alleviating some of the emotional burden they’re carrying from not knowing how to best support you.

If your loved ones are worrying that you’re overreacting, they should understand that “the survivor is sometimes operating from a lens of trauma,” says psycho-oncologist and breast cancer survivor Dr. Renee Exelbert. “And [you] may therefore see other more minor health issues as indicative of a recurrence.”

Share with them just how normal your fear of recurrence is.

3. Continue being proactive about medical care

It can be tempting to want to bury your head in the sand and never visit another doctor’s office again after a long battle with cancer. But keeping up with your doctor’s appointments, including any medical visits you may have put to the side during treatment, is important.

As you likely already know, early detection is key.

Reach out to your doctor if you’re experiencing any of your original symptoms, or any new symptoms, including pain or physical problems that interfere with your quality of life.

Visiting your doctor after surviving cancer treatment can bring back a flood of memories you may not be prepared for, says Susan Ash-Lee, LCSW, vice president of clinical services at Cancer Support Community.

Writing your questions in advance and bringing a family member or friend with you can be helpful.

4. Regain a sense of control over your body

Cancer can make you feel like your body is betraying you or like it’s not your own.

“An excellent way to regain a sense of control is through diet and exercise,” says Exelbert. “This allows the individual to be an active agent of change, and in command of choices that can positively impact their health.”

Whether you had a mastectomy or not, your body is different now than it was before cancer, and activities that strengthen the mind-body connection, like yoga, can help you feel more grounded, Ash-Lee says. (Of course, always be sure to clear any physical activity with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program!)

Taking time to be mindful can also help you tune in to your bodily sensations, feeling like your body is your own again.

“Mindfulness is simply paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment,” Ash-Lee says. “Being mindful can improve our concentration, enhance our relationships, and help decrease our stress.”

5. Focus on enjoying your life

Sometimes, after treatment, you may be feeling stuck, like you don’t remember what life was like before diagnosis.

“Cancer was able to guide so much of your life during treatment; now that it is out of your body, we don’t want to continue to give it the power to guide you even though it’s gone,” says Gutierrez. “That’s not the life you fought for.”

You get to celebrate now! Facing cancer is one of the hardest things you will ever have to go through — and you survived.

What’s on your bucket list? Now’s the time, if you have the energy, to do all the things you always said you’d do someday.

Take your dream trip, pick up a new hobby, or just schedule time to catch up with the loved ones you didn’t get to see while you were going through treatment.

Take time to appreciate the little things in life.