Survivorship: Your New Normal

Survivorship is a term used to describe a patient’s state after most or all breast cancer treatment is complete. As a breast cancer survivor, you should pay particular attention to maintaining the following:

  • Follow-up office visitsPatients who have been treated for breast cancer should have visits with a breast cancer specialist every 3-6 months for the first 5 years after treatment and with a breast cancer specialist or their primary care provider every year thereafter.  During these visits, you will undergo a physical examination and can talk to your healthcare provider about how you are feeling. These visits also provide an opportunity to report health changes and have any questions answered. If you are taking drugs for ongoing therapy (such as Herceptin or hormone blocking therapy), you will be evaluated to ensure that these treatments are not causing you harm.

  • Routine imaging—If you still have breast tissue, a yearly mammogram schedule should be established. Additional imaging (such as ultrasound, MRI, CT, or PET scan) depends upon your personal history.

  • Awareness of your history—It is helpful for you to know the type of breast cancer you have had. It is also beneficial to know the treatments you received and to remain aware of the possible side effects of those treatments. From day to day, you may need to decide for or against something because of the breast cancer therapies that you have had. For example, if you had surgery in your armpit and develop a cut in the skin on that arm, you should be more attentive to its healing because you could be more prone to infection. If you have had radiation to your breast, you should be vigilant in protecting that area from the sun by covering up or wearing strong sunscreen on the exposed skin. If your tumor was estrogen fed, you should avoid taking prescription estrogen preparations or over the counter estrogen-like medications.

  • Healthy lifestyle decisions—Successful survivorship depends upon healthy habits. Regular exercise, a sensible diet, avoiding smoking and minimizing alcohol intake all contribute to better outcomes from breast cancer. Work with supportive people whom you trust to help you make health-conscious choices.

  • Vigilance—Understand that breast cancer can recur, but there is no guarantee that it will. Keep your appointments and follow your provider’s recommendations. You are your best advocate. Pay close attention to changes in your body and energy level. Speak to your specialist if you have questions or concerns. Make your health and peace of mind your top priorities.

  • Self-awareness—Many patients emerge from breast cancer treatment with a sense of increased strength and wisdom. Accept that your journey has made you a different person and embrace it. Use your new gifts to improve your life.