Finishing your breast cancer treatment is a huge relief and a time to celebrate! Getting back into a more normal routine will be your main priority now. One part of getting back to your regular life should include a post-treatment plan. Breast cancer survivors need a customized post-treatment plan that includes:
- A follow-up care schedule
- Recommendations for managing current side effects and what to do if new side effects appear
- How to manage the emotions and concerns about surviving and cancer recurrence
Now is the time to talk to your oncologist about a follow-up plan that you can also share with your primary care physician and/or your gynecologist.
Try not to think about a post-treatment care plan as a chore. Instead, think about it as planning for your future. And many breast cancer survivors go on to live long after breast cancer treatment is complete. Thanks to early detection and improved treatments, nine out of 10 women diagnosed with breast cancer will complete their treatment and live at least another five years. Eight out of 10 will live ten years or longer following treatment.
Stay on Schedule for Follow-Up Care Appointments with Your Oncologist and Other Medical Professionals
Continued care and monitoring ensure that your recovery process goes as well as possible.
Some of the appointments you should expect:
Cancer Care Team Appointments: You'll have more regular oncologist visits, usually every month, for the first year after your cancer treatment. The longer you go without any recurrence, the fewer appointments you'll have. Typically, if you've been cancer-free for at least five years, then you'll only have a yearly appointment.
Mammograms: Your mammogram schedule will vary depending on the type of breast cancer treatment you've received. For example, if you've had a lumpectomy or partial mastectomy, then you'll need to have a mammogram done every 6-12 months once you've completed your treatment and then once per year following that. If you've had a mastectomy on only one breast, then you'll still need to have a mammogram done on the remaining breast every year. If both breasts are removed (a double or bilateral mastectomy), additional mammograms should not be needed since all of the breast tissue has been removed.
Bone Density Tests: Your doctor will closely watch your bone health if you've had to take hormone medications or if you've started menopause due to treatment.
Pelvic Exams: If you're taking certain hormone medications, you may be at higher risk for uterine cancer. Your doctor will schedule pelvic exams every year to closely monitor your health.
Additional Tests: Your doctor may schedule other tests as needed based on the outcomes of your other appointments. Although not common, you may be asked to complete imaging tests in addition to your other exams.
Organize Your Medical Records
You likely know by now that a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment plan leads to a lot of medical records. You may want to request a copy of your oncology medical record, as well as any other medical records for other conditions you may have. You can keep these in a binder to have as a reference for yourself or if a member of your medical team asks about a previous treatment or procedure. Keep in mind when you start treatment with any new physician they’re likely to request medical records directly from your other healthcare providers so that they can also keep your information in their own files.
Managing Long-Term Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatments
One of the biggest issues that breast cancer survivors deal with following their treatment is lymphedema. Lymphedema is the swelling of an area where lymph nodes were removed as part of the cancer treatment. This is most common in the arms for breast cancer survivors but can also be in the hand, breast or torso. There are things you can do at home to help this, but be sure to talk about it so you know what to do at the first signs and what you can do to prevent it entirely. RMMC (in the Longmont office) offers breast cancer patients the Lymphedema Prevention Program called SOZO. It’s designed to prevent the development of chronic lymphedema in at-risk cancer patients. Many programs identify and treat lymphedema, we focus on preventing it.
While you certainly can’t prevent all side effects of cancer treatment that may occur, there are a few things you can do to help. Eating a balanced diet, maintaining a regular exercise routine, meditation, avoiding smoking and alcohol may all be recommendations included in your after treatment plan. Maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle can help your general sense of wellness as you celebrate your cancer recovery.
Concerns About Breast Cancer Recurrence & Survivor Guilt
As you embrace your life as a cancer survivor, you may realize that there are many feelings involved with this journey. Concerns about the future and survivor guilt are among the most common things people work through during survivorship. In fact, many people say that the hardest time of the entire journey is immediately after treatment. During treatment, you have a feeling of “fighting” the cancer and being proactive. When all of your appointments and procedures stop, you may feel like you’re no longer in fight mode - and it can be difficult! However, it’s important to look toward the future and confront your feelings. Fortunately, there are resources that may help. Some people find that talking to their oncologist can offer some relief, others use meditation or spiritual beliefs to help. However, if you’re feeling anxious all the time, consider speaking with a social worker at RMCC who can guide you towards counselors or support groups for those going through similar experiences. You may find that participating in a discussion will give you a different perspective and new tools for managing the many emotions you may experience.
Learn More about a Care Plan After Breast Cancer Treatment
It's important for your health that you continue the follow-up care after your breast cancer treatment. You have unique needs, so your care plan will be customized to suit your needs and provide the best outcomes for your health.
At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, your health care team is here to talk with you about anything that affects your health and well-being. As with any questions you have during treatment, be sure to speak with your oncologist and other cancer care providers about your specific circumstances.