Many patients with a new breast cancer diagnosis ask me: “What do I need to know?”
At that point in time, they are surrounded by concerned loved ones and are uncertain what questions to ask and what steps to take. Fortunately, there are a variety of resources available and many knowledgeable physicians and providers on hand to help.
But as cancer survivors finish surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy and transition back to routine life, they are again confronted by worry and confusion, and wonder how their health picture has changed.
That is why it’s so important to ask—as a breast cancer survivor—what do I need to know? Here are five tips to point you in the right direction.
The American Academy of Sports Medicine recommends that cancer survivors, regardless of their treatment status, exercise at least 150 minutes per week. If you feel like this is a challenge given your overall stamina, try to break it up, or take a walk instead of trying to jog like you may have previously done. If you can only go 10-15 minutes, try doing this twice a day instead of all at one time period. There are a lot of resources available to get you moving. If you haven’t tried the Cancer Rehabilitation program, ask about it. There are many tools available at our institution as well as in the community to help you increase your activity.
- Know your cancer treatment history.
Be aware of the drugs you received, the radiation you received, and the medications you are on (tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors). Ask for a treatment summary. Knowing your cancer treatment history will help your providers—both oncologists and primary care physicians—keep you well. In addition, you are more likely to get preventative care and screening for all health matters (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc) by seeing both your oncologist and your primary care physician. You can also consider an evaluation in our Cancer Survivor Program.
- Rest well.
The transition from weekly appointments to less regular visits is a challenging one. Most cancer survivors—roughly 66 percent—fear recurrence of their cancer. Roughly 51 percent of patients with breast cancer report sleep difficulties. Of them, 19 percent meet criteria for insomnia syndrome and 95 percent will have chronic problems lasting more than six months. Consider trying a mindfulness class or a support group. Ask your physician for other tools. Exercise. All these things will help you rest more thoroughly, both mentally and physically.
- Eat well.
Did you know that most breast cancer survivors on aromatase inhibitors and tamoxifen will gain an average of 5 to 10 pounds? Additionally, breast cancer survivors with stage 1-3 breast cancer are at greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than their breast cancer. Eat foods low in animal fats. Eat at least three to four servings of fruit and three to four servings of vegetables per day. Avoid smoked and processed foods.
- Ask questions.
Many patients finishing therapy think they should accept a “new normal.” If you aren’t feeling well, call and talk to your healthcare team. Ask if there are interventions and tools available to help you improve your stamina, your strength and your memory (i.e. rehabilitation for your memory impairment). Ask questions.