6 Overlooked Signs of Breast Cancer

Over the last few years, and again now that my cancer has returned, many people have asked me if I had any signs of breast cancer before I found the first tumor in my breast. Yes, I did have a few of these signs, and I had pain. Please, remember to do your monthly breast self-exam and watch for these signs.

Medically reviewed by Amy Tiersten, MD — Written by Jennifer Bringle on October 5, 2020

Everyone talks about the importance of catching breast lumps as early as possible. But did you know there’s a host of lesser known breast cancer symptoms that might not show up on a self-exam or mammogram?

According to the American Cancer Society (ACA), breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, other than skin cancers, and it’s the second-most deadly cancer for women behind lung cancer.

On average, there’s about a 1 in 8 chance that a U.S. woman will develop breast cancer at some point in their life. The ACA estimates that more than 40,000 women will die from breast cancer in 2020.

The most common form of breast cancer is invasive breast cancer, which is any type that has invaded the breast tissue.

Less common forms include inflammatory breast cancer (which is caused by cancer cells blocking lymph vessels in the skin, causing the breast to look inflamed) and Paget’s disease, which involves the skin of the nipple or areola.

With the high rates of breast cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends women have the choice to start annual mammograms at age 40. The organization says women between the ages of 45 and 54 should get mammograms every year.

And while the disease is most commonly discovered by detecting a lump during a mammogram, there are other lesser known signs and symptoms of breast cancer that women should look out for.

Nipple discharge

Unusual discharge from the nipple can be an indicator that something is wrong in the breast.

According to Marisa Weiss, MD, breast oncologist and founder of BreastCancer.org, discharge that’s bloody or pink and generally only on one side can possibly indicate the presence of cancer in the breast tissue, particularly if it’s persistent.

Skin changes

Skin changes are actually one of the most common lesser known signs of breast cancer.

“Thickness or redness of the skin, along with a little puffiness like the skin of an orange is a sign,” says Weiss. “You see dimpling where the hair follicles are, like a navel orange.”

Skin differences like thickening, dimpling, and changes in color can indicate the presence of inflammatory breast cancer.

Nipple crust

Redness, scaling, crusting, or flaking of the nipple or areola can be a sign of Paget’s disease, which can be an early indication of breast cancer.

The skin changes on the nipples often look like more benign conditions like psoriasis or eczema, but don’t respond to traditional treatments for those issues and instead worsen.

New shape or increase in breast size

An enlarged breast — particularly if the swelling is isolated to one breast — or a change in the shape of the breast, can indicate issues within the tissue.

“An unusual shape where the contour is distorted and there’s a bulge in one part of the breast can be a sign of cancer,” says Weiss.

“It could feel like a lump, but it could also just be a region of the breast that feels firmer, and you can’t really feel a lump within it,” she says. “It also often becomes more pronounced when moving in different positions.”

Inverted nipple

A nipple that looks flat or inverted, as well as a nipple that points in a different direction than it once did, can be a sign of breast cancer.

“Instead of pointing straight outward or downward, it no longer looks in the same direction, but in a different spot,” says Weiss.

A flat or inverted nipple is another sign of Paget’s disease.

Red or hot spots

Red or hot spots on the breast, sometimes covering the entire breast, can be an indicator of inflammatory breast cancer.

While red or hot spots can also indicate mastitis — inflammation of breast tissue due to infection, most often experienced during lactation — mastitis symptoms are usually accompanied by fever.

Red or hot spots without fever that persist and don’t improve can mean breast cancer is present.

The takeaway

Weiss says it’s important to remember that these signs and symptoms can indicate other benign issues that aren’t breast cancer, but it’s critical to monitor the symptoms and act if they don’t subside.

And for those who’ve already had breast cancer, it can be even more difficult to discern the innocuous from the malignant. In that case, Weiss says it’s particularly crucial to monitor changes in the breasts and alert your doctor when something doesn’t look or feel right.

“You’re always worried about recurrence of a new problem, so the ability to recognize the less common symptoms and signs may be a little trickier,” she says.

It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between leftover scar tissue from your prior breast cancer. And if you’ve had mastectomy and reconstruction, you could have lumps and bumps in there that are due to scar tissue from all the healing where they removed and recreated your breast, says Weiss.

No matter what, Weiss advises women to pay attention to their bodies and maintain regular self-exams and mammograms. And should they notice something out of the ordinary? Let their doctor know.

Jennifer Bringle has written for Glamour, Good Housekeeping, and Parents, among other outlets. She’s working on a memoir about her post-cancer experience.

I Found A Lump

A few days ago, on Tuesday, I found a lump on the left side of my neck at the base right where my neck curves into my shoulder; the same side of my body where my breast cancer was, and the same side where I had all of the terrible pain in my head. I was reading through my emails, playing with my necklace as I often do, and my fingers felt something odd. I took off my necklace to investigate further, and it felt exactly like the tumor I found in my breast a little over three years ago, as this one is a small round bump with a lump next to it.

It should be no surprise that I went into full panic mode. I thought about what to do next and called my husband. I told him about what I found and that I thought about calling my oncologist, but I knew he would want imaging done. I then remembered that my surgeon has a mobile ultrasound machine at his office, so it made sense to see him first and have him do an ultrasound. My husband agreed with my decision, so I called my surgeon’s office to see if I could get an appointment the following day, yesterday, which is an office day for him to see patients. Luckily, I was able to get an afternoon appointment to see him and have the ultrasound done.

During my appointment, he first took a look with the ultrasound at the lump I described to him, then he looked at the lymph nodes under my left arm. He couldn’t find anything unusual under my arm, and he said that he was not sure what the lump was on my neck, other than a mass. He asked me if I had contacted my oncologist yet, and I explained that I hadn’t called him because I knew he would want imaging, so I wanted to see him, my surgeon, first for the ultrasound. Then he asked if I wanted to do a PET scan or a biopsy first as we need to find out what we are dealing with this time. I asked his opinion and told him that I trust his judgment, which I do without question, and we agreed that a biopsy should be done first, and then if it comes back positive, we will do a PET scan to see if I have any other tumors in my body. So early in the morning on Friday, I will go back to his office, and he will do a needle biopsy. He gave me the option of being asleep during the biopsy or using the needle with a local, and I chose the needle because I didn’t see the need to be put to sleep for a biopsy after having five surgeries in twenty-two months.

Quite honestly, I am scared. I would go into more about my fear, but it touches on what I am not ready to share yet. The only comfort I have right now is that I already know the possible next steps, no surprises this time, which of course is both good and bad.

I will update as soon as I have my biopsy results which should be some time between late Friday and Monday.

Appointment With My Oncologist

When I had my appointment with my oncologist on August 5th, I was hoping that my red blood cell count would finally be in the normal range, but it isn’t quite there yet. I wasn’t too surprised as I have been tired lately and not feeling the greatest. At this point, nothing but time will help, so I am trying to be patient.

I am still having a lot of issues with my memory. It seems like only my short-term memory is being affected, but it is starting to drive me crazy. My oncologist asked me if I am still “fuzzy,” and I said that yes, I am still having issues. So, I am taking a week off Anastrozole to see if it helps clear my head or not.

Once I have my next appointment in December, I will finally be on a different schedule with my oncologist. I will switch from seeing him every three or four months to every six months. I am making progress, and it feels good!

Three Month Follow-up with My Oncologist

Today I had my three-month follow-up appointment with my oncologist. As usual, we spoke about how I am doing on Anastrozole. I am continuing to do well with no major side effects. I still have eight years and ten months to go, but all should continue to go well as time passes by.

He also wanted an update on how I am doing since my last surgery, which was a month ago today. I told him that I am very happy with my results and that I have healed well with very little pain. He said that he finds that surgeons often don’t prepare their patients concerning the pain they will experience after surgery and how long it can go on. I agreed that realistic expectations aren’t discussed, and for me, that was hard because in April 2019, when my cancer was removed was the first surgery I have ever had in my life. Yes, I knew there would be a pain, but I would have never guessed at just how long after surgery I would still have pain here and there.

My blood work was done today as well, and my red blood cell count is still a little low. We are thinking that moving forward; my count will be a little low; it’s where my system has settled after everything I have gone through, and I am OK with that as long as I continue to stay healthy.

I am just about to reach my second significant milestone with my oncologist. I will have one more follow-up appointment in three months, and then I am graduating to the six-month plan, which signifies my being two years out from when I started chemotherapy with no recurrence. Over the next three years, I will see him every six months until I get to the five-year goal of being cancer-free. He was happy to tell me that I am still cancer-free and doing well! I am beyond grateful and happy! 🙂 💕

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The 14 Best Foods for Hair Growth

About ten days after starting my chemotherapy treatments, my hair started to fall out. I had eight inches of my hair cut off before I started my treatments, so my hair was much shorter, but it was still devastating to see handfuls of my hair fall out. My hair started to grow back around one month after my treatments were over. Fifteen months later, my hair is wavy and about six inches long, so it has been a little slow to grow back, and I have a few thin spots, so those spots are not growing as quickly as the rest of my hair. I have been taking Viviscal for the past seven weeks to help promote my hair growth. It is recommended that you take it for at least three to six months, so we will see if my growth improves with more time, as so far, I do not see much of a change. I do eat most of the foods that are listed below, and I am taking vitamins and supplements as well, so I feel like I am doing all I can to help my hair grow back healthy and strong.

Written by Ryan Raman, MS, RD on April 9, 2018

Many people want strong and healthy hair, especially as they grow older.

Interestingly, your hair grows around 0.5 inches (1.25 cm) per month, and 6 inches (15 cm) per year. How fast it grows depends on factors like age, health, genetics and diet.

Although you can’t change factors like age and genetics, diet is one thing you have control over. In fact, consuming a diet lacking the right nutrients can lead to hair loss.

On the other hand, eating a balanced diet with the right nutrients can help promote hair growth, especially if you’re experiencing hair loss due to poor nutrition.

Here are the 14 best foods you can eat to promote hair growth.

1. Eggs

Eggs are a great source of protein and biotin, two nutrients that may promote hair growth.

Eating adequate protein is important for hair growth because hair follicles are made of mostly protein. A lack of protein in the diet has been shown to promote hair loss (1Trusted Source).

Biotin is essential for the production of a hair protein called keratin, which is why biotin supplements are often marketed for hair growth. Research has also shown that consuming more biotin can help improve hair growth in people with a biotin deficiency (2).

However, biotin deficiencies are uncommon if you consume a balanced diet. There is little evidence to show healthy people benefit from consuming more biotin (3Trusted Source).

Eggs are also a great source of zinc, selenium and other hair-healthy nutrients. This makes them one of the best foods to consume for optimal hair health (4).

Summary Eggs are a great source of protein and biotin, which are important for hair health and growth. A deficiency in either of these nutrients has been linked to hair loss.

2. Berries

Berries are loaded with beneficial compounds and vitamins that may promote hair growth.

This includes vitamin C, which has strong antioxidant properties.

Antioxidants can help protect hair follicles against damage from harmful molecules called free radicals. These molecules exist naturally in the body and the environment (5Trusted Source6Trusted Source).

For example, 1 cup (144 grams) of strawberries provides an impressive 141% of your daily vitamin C needs (7).

Also, the body uses vitamin C to produce collagen, a protein that helps strengthen hair to prevent it from becoming brittle and breaking (8Trusted Source9Trusted Source).

What’s more, vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from the diet. Low iron levels may cause anemia, which has been linked to hair loss (10Trusted Source).

Summary Berries are loaded with compounds like antioxidants and vitamins that may promote hair growth. For example, strawberries are rich in vitamin C, which aids collagen production and iron absorption, two factors that may promote hair growth.

3. Spinach

Spinach is a healthy green vegetable that’s loaded with beneficial nutrients like folate, iron, and vitamins A and C, all of which may promote hair growth (11).

Vitamin A helps the skin glands produce sebum. This oily substance helps moisturize the scalp to keep hair healthy (12Trusted Source13Trusted Source).

A cup (30 grams) of spinach provides up to 54% of your daily vitamin A needs (11).

Spinach is also a great plant-based source of iron, which is essential for hair growth. Iron helps red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body to fuel your metabolism and aid growth and repair (14Trusted Source).

What’s more, iron deficiencies have been linked to hair loss (10Trusted Source).

Summary Spinach is loaded with folate, iron, and vitamins A and C, which may promote hair growth. A deficiency in these nutrients may result in hair loss.

4. Fatty Fish

Fatty fish like salmon, herring and mackerel have nutrients that may promote hair growth.

They are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to hair growth.

A study in 120 women found that taking a supplement containing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well as antioxidants reduced hair loss and increased hair density (15Trusted Source).

Another study found that taking a fish oil supplement significantly reduced hair loss and increased hair growth in women with thinning hair (16Trusted Source).

However, there are only a handful of studies on omega-3 fatty acids and hair growth. More studies are needed before health experts can make any recommendations.

Fatty fish is also a great source of protein, selenium, vitamin D3 and B vitamins, nutrients that may help promote strong and healthy hair (17).

Purchase salmon online.

Summary Fatty fish like salmon, herring and mackerel are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to improved hair growth and density. However, there are only a few studies in this area, so more are needed.

5. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene. The body converts this compound into vitamin A, which is linked to good hair health.

A medium sweet potato (about 114 grams) contains enough beta-carotene to provide more than four times your daily vitamin A needs (18).

Research has shown that vitamin A promotes the production of sebum, which helps keep hair healthy.

What’s more, vitamin A could also speed up the rate of hair growth and encourage the growth of thicker hair, all while preventing other hair follicles from regressing (1920).

Summary Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin A, which helps aid sebum production. Additionally, it has other factors that may help speed up the rate of hair growth.

6. Avocados

Avocados are delicious, nutritious and a great source of healthy fats.

They are also an excellent source of vitamin E, which may promote hair growth. One medium avocado (about 200 grams) provides 21% of your daily vitamin E needs (21).

Like vitamin C, vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps combat oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals.

In one study, people with hair loss experienced 34.5% more hair growth after taking a vitamin E supplement for eight months (22Trusted Source).

Vitamin E also protects areas of the skin, like the scalp, from oxidative stress and damage. Damaged skin on the scalp can result in poor hair quality and fewer hair follicles (23Trusted Source24Trusted Source).

What’s more, avocados are a great source of essential fatty acids. These fats cannot be produced by the body, but are essential building blocks of your cells. A deficiency in essential fatty acids has been linked to hair loss (25Trusted Source).

Summary Avocados are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that may promote hair growth. Additionally, they are a great source of
essential fatty acids, which appear to be crucial for hair growth.

7. Nuts

Nuts are tasty, convenient and contain a variety of nutrients that may promote hair growth.

For example, an ounce (28 grams) of almonds provides an impressive 37% of your daily vitamin E needs (26).

What’s more, they also provide a wide variety of B vitamins, zinc and essential fatty acids. A deficiency in any of these nutrients has been linked to hair loss (9Trusted Source).

Nuts have also been linked to a wide variety of other health benefits besides hair growth, including reduced inflammation and a lower risk of heart disease (27Trusted Source).

This makes nuts an excellent and easy addition to your diet.

Buy almonds online.

Summary Nuts are packed with nutrients like vitamin E, B vitamins, zinc and essential fatty acids, all of which may promote hair growth and are linked to many other health benefits.

8. Seeds

Seeds deliver a massive amount of nutrients with relatively few calories. Many of these nutrients may also promote hair growth. These include vitamin E, zinc and selenium.

An ounce (28 grams) of sunflower seeds provides nearly 50% of your daily vitamin E needs, with a wide variety of hair-healthy B vitamins (28).

What’s more, certain seeds like flaxseeds and chia seeds also provide omega-3 fatty acids.

A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of flaxseeds provides 6,388 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. That’s more omega-3 fatty acids than half a fillet (178 grams) of salmon (1629).

However, flaxseeds provide a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is not used by the body as efficiently as the omega-3s found in fatty fish. Nonetheless, it’s a great addition to the diet.

In order to get the widest variety of nutrients, it’s best to consume a mixture of seeds.

Shop for sunflowerflax, and chia seeds online.

Summary Like nuts, seeds are rich in vitamin E and other nutrients that may promote hair growth. Some seeds also contain omega-3s, which have been linked to hair growth.

9. Sweet Peppers

Sweet peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C, which may aid hair growth.

In fact, one yellow pepper provides nearly 5.5 times as much vitamin C as an orange (30).

Vitamin C helps promote collagen production, which can help strengthen your hair strands. It’s also a strong antioxidant, which can protect hair strands against oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defense system. It has been linked to hair loss and the graying of hair (5Trusted Source6Trusted Source).

What’s more, sweet peppers are also an excellent source of vitamin A.

This vitamin may help speed up hair growth while stimulating the production of sebum, which helps keep hair healthy.

Summary Sweet peppers are a rich source of vitamins A and C, two nutrients that help ensure hair stays healthy and that may aid hair growth.

10. Oysters

Oysters are one of the best food sources of zinc (31).

Zinc is a mineral that helps support the hair growth and repair cycle (32Trusted Source).

A lack of zinc in the diet may promote telogen effluvium, a common but reversible form of hair loss caused by a lack of nutrients in the diet (33Trusted Source).

Studies have shown that taking a zinc supplement can reverse the effects of hair loss caused by a zinc deficiency (34Trusted Source35).

However, taking too much zinc could also promote hair loss. That’s why getting zinc from foods like oysters may be better than taking supplements, since foods provide zinc in small but healthy doses (36Trusted Source).

Summary Oysters are one of the best sources of zinc in the diet. This mineral helps support the hair growth and repair cycle.

11. Shrimp

Shrimp are popular shellfish rich in many nutrients that have the potential to promote hair growth.

For example, shrimp are a great source of protein, B vitamins, zinc, iron and vitamin D. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of shrimp provides 38% of your daily vitamin D needs (37).

Interestingly, studies have linked vitamin D3 deficiency to hair loss (38Trusted Source39Trusted Source40Trusted Source).

Despite being very low in fat, shrimp also provide a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to improved hair growth (16Trusted Source37).

Summary Shrimp are a great source of protein, B vitamins, zinc, iron and vitamin D, which may aid hair growth. They also provide a small amount of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

12. Beans

Beans are a great plant-based source of protein, which is essential to hair growth.

Like oysters, beans are a good source of zinc, which aids the hair growth and repair cycle. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of black beans provides 7% of your daily zinc needs (32Trusted Source).

They also provide many other hair-healthy nutrients, including iron, biotin and folate (41).

On top of all these benefits, beans are highly versatile and inexpensive, which makes them an easy addition to the diet.

Find a selection of beans online.

Summary Beans are a great source of protein, iron, zinc and biotin, which are all essential for optimal hair health. Together, they may aid hair growth.

13. Soybeans

Studies have shown that compounds in soybeans may promote hair growth. One of these compounds is spermidine, which is abundant in soybeans (42Trusted Source).

For example, a study of 100 healthy people found that a spermidine-based nutritional supplement prolonged a phase of active hair growth called the anagen phase. The longer a hair follicle stays in the anagen phase, the longer it will grow (43Trusted Source).

Test-tube studies have also shown that spermidine promotes human hair growth (44Trusted Source).

However, the research on spermidine and hair growth is fairly new, so more studies are needed before health experts can make recommendations on spermidine intake.

Summary Soybeans are one of the best sources of spermidine, a compound that may prolong the active phase of hair growth.

14. Meat

Meat is a staple in many people’s diet and is rich in nutrients that may aid hair growth.

The protein in meat aids growth and helps repair and strengthen hair follicles. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked sirloin steak provides as much as 29 grams of protein (45).

Red meat, in particular, is rich in a type of iron that’s easy to absorb. This mineral helps the red blood cells deliver oxygen to all cells in the body, including hair follicles (14Trusted Source).

Deficiencies in protein and iron have been linked to hair loss (1Trusted Source10Trusted Source).

Summary Meat is a great source of protein, which is essential for healthy, strong hair. Red meat, in particular, is rich in iron, which may aid hair growth.

The Bottom Line

What you eat can have a huge effect on the health of your hair.

A lack of the right nutrients including vitamins A, C, D and E, zinc, B vitamins, iron, biotin, protein and essential fatty acids may slow down hair growth or even cause hair loss.

Fortunately, correcting a deficiency in any of these nutrients may help treat hair loss and promote the rate of hair growth.

If you think you’re lacking any of these nutrients, try adding some of the above foods to your diet.

How I Learned to Adjust to Post-Cancer Life

Going in line with my last entry, here is an excellent article about adjusting to life post-cancer. It’s so easy for people to think that just because you are done with the surgeries and treatments, that you are back to normal. I get so tired of people asking me if I am done with “everything” and then responding with “so you are all good now” when I respond by saying that yes, I am done with the surgeries and treatments, but I am on medication the next ten years. I generally don’t say anything more as it is clear that the person I am talking to doesn’t even remotely follow what is going on with me. I know that the world doesn’t revolve around me, but it is somewhat insulting when someone I thought was a good friend, has such a conversation with me. I can say, though, that I have had this happen a few times, but they are still my friends, and I love them, so I am still here to talk whenever they want.

This article describes the hell that I am currently dealing with, and have been for months, and in many parts, it is almost as if I had written it myself. As I try to get through the bad days as best as possible, I have had a very positive change, thanks to this article. I have finally been able to get a handle on my issues with not being able to sleep, and I credit two things for that; the first is that I have found an app that works well for me when it comes to relaxing at bedtime, so I can fall asleep quickly before my mind has a chance to race and keep me awake. {the app is called loona}. The second is that now that the neuropathy is mostly gone from my hands, I am making jewelry again, which makes me very happy, so my stress level is much lower on most days. {My website is mmillsdesigns, where you will find my online shop and blog about my small business}.

I want to conclude by saying that it may sound odd to anyone who has not been in the position of having doctors by your side for many, many months, saving your life from cancer; that the routine, even if it involves the terrible experience of chemotherapy treatments or many surgeries, becomes something that you depend on and get used to as time goes by. It’s almost effortless to get emotionally attached to your doctors when you see them regularly, especially in the beginning after being diagnosed. I was going to appointments twice a week for months as the severity of my breast cancer was coming to light. My chemotherapy treatments were every week for four months, and my Radiation treatments were every weekday for five weeks. So when you have been deemed a survivor, for me, it was after my last clear mammogram on August 17th, 2020; there is a sense of relief as you hear the words “no evidence of disease,” but there is also an overwhelming feeling of loss as well because now all of the hustle and bustle centered around saving your life is going to slow down a lot as the doctor’s appointments become less frequent; I currently see my oncologist every three months, and I see my surgeon every six months. As I have said in past posts, the first two years after the end of my treatments is the most critical time in survivorship because the chance of re-occurrence is at its highest. After two years have passed, the chance of re-occurrence will drop slightly, and when I reach five years with no re-occurrence, the chance will substantially drop; so, that is why my doctors are closely monitoring me for the next few years.

After reading my commentary and the article below, I hope that you, my dear readers, will understand a bit more about the complexity of post-cancer life and survivors’ experience.

Medically reviewed by Jenneh Rishe, RN — Written by Jennifer Bringle on December 17, 2020

Moving on and finding some semblance of normalcy is much more difficult than advertised.

I’d just closed my eyes for a nap when the trill of the phone ringing snapped me back to consciousness. Gingerly reaching for the receiver, I answered hesitantly, nervous as to who might be on the other end.

It was my surgeon, calling with the results of my mastectomy pathology.

“The tissue from your breasts was totally clear,” he said with a smile I could literally hear in his voice. “And your lymph nodes were all normal, too. There was no evidence of disease.”

These are the four magical words every cancer patient longs to hear: no evidence of disease.

They’re the goal — the best possible result of months of grueling treatment. They mean you get to live.

Months earlier, I wasn’t sure I’d ever hear those words. After finding a lump in my left breast, I was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma, along with the BRCA2 gene mutation.

I faced a gauntlet of chemotherapy followed by a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.

There were bumps in the road along the way — an emergency room visit and an allergic reaction to one of my chemo drugs — but I’d finally reached the end.

I could finally relax and get back to my “normal” life.

The first clue that this would be easier said than done came a few weeks later, when I found myself in tears after being released by my surgeon for annual visits instead of the every few weeks I’d been seeing him up to that point.

Driving home that day, wiping away the tears suddenly spilling down my cheeks, I couldn’t figure out why I was so sad. Shouldn’t I be happy?

What I would soon learn is that this is a common occurrence among cancer survivors.

Once treatment ends and we get the all clear, the world expects us to move on, find our “new normal,” and become those smiling survivors we see in marketing campaigns.

The reality is, moving on and finding some semblance of normalcy is much more difficult than advertised.

In the days and months after completing treatment, I dealt with an array of unexpected emotions.

Sadness at the end of a comfortable routine with my doctors, whom I’d become very attached to during the months they stood alongside me, trying to save my life.

Fear that every little pain or cough could be a sign of new cancer or cancer that spread.

And grief over all I’d lost — my breasts, my hair, and trust in my own body.

As time wore on, I realized instead of becoming happier and less afraid, my anxiety was reaching new levels.

Fearful — often irrational — thoughts about cancer recurring or metastasizing began to disrupt my daily life.

Instead of paying attention to my son and husband, I was often distracted, Googling symptoms on my phone.

Even happy moments like birthdays and vacations were marred by my irrational fears that a headache was a brain tumor, or my backache was more than simply a pulled muscle.

I knew I had to do something to get my anxiety under control.

Though I’d resisted asking for help, pridefully insisting I could handle it myself, I realized the time had come to seek professional assistance.

I scheduled a therapy appointment with a counselor specializing in the needs of cancer patients and survivors.

Even though she couldn’t personally understand what I was going through, her training and experience gave her a level of empathy and insight that made talking to her about my anxiety calming and productive.

During those sessions, she taught me another valuable tool to help quell my anxiety: meditation.

Through basic mindfulness techniques like focusing on my breath and learning to acknowledge and then dismiss negative thoughts, I became better able to manage my anxiety on a daily basis.

Using a guided meditation app before bed began to replace my nightly symptom Googling, leading to easier sleep.

While working on my mental health, I also started focusing on improving my physical health.

Cancer treatment left me weaker and more sedentary, so I started incorporating walks into my daily routine to rebuild my strength. Whether it was a quick jaunt on my lunch break or a treadmill workout in the evening, adding vigorous-yet-gentle physical activity helped me feel stronger and more energetic.

I also began paying more attention to what I ate. While I certainly still indulge in my beloved sweets, I also try to eat more fruits and vegetables daily.

These manageable changes to my diet and exercise may not prevent my cancer from returning, but they will help me build a body that’s strong enough to endure treatment again.

While all these new things certainly helped me adjust to life after cancer, I knew I needed something else to help manage my anxiety. After talking with my doctor, I made the decision to give a mild antidepressant a try.

I’d been resistant to adding another medication to my daily regimen, but I also reminded myself that I didn’t question taking a pill that might prevent my cancer from returning. So why was I so reluctant to take something that could help me with the anxiety that had taken over my life?

For those of us who’ve survived cancer, there’s a great deal of pressure to live up to the persona of strength that gets bestowed upon us during treatment.

We’re treated as though we’re almost super-human — the ones who beat death.

But the truth is, that fortitude is often a facade, masking the fear and pain that cancer survivors live with after treatment ends.

The process of working through those emotions to achieve a sense of normalcy in our lives is an ongoing, personal journey.

While what worked for me might not work for everyone, finding my own formula has allowed me to regain something I thought I’d lost after cancer — happiness.

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