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The New Normal: What Happens After Cancer Treatment?

Publication: Healthy Magazine, McAllen

Congratulations! You have fought cancer and are anxious to return to normal. You are ready to go back to work, spend time with friends and family, maybe even hit the gym—at least that’s what your brain is saying, but your body feels exhausted. Or perhaps your body is strong, but your emotions are still raw, making it difficult to enjoy your health.

Life after cancer requires adjusting to a “new normal” for all patients and just as there is a variety of physical and emotional challenges that may arise in the life of a cancer survivor, there are multiple ways to address them. Fortunately, not all side effects are permanent and they can be overcome. We recommend that all of our patients speak with their oncologist about any issues or concerns they experience and that we work through them together.

Fatigue is the most common physical challenge for patients and there are ways to reduce its impact. We recommend flexibility when scheduling activities and rest to suit different energy levels at different times.

Lymphedema, swelling that occurs when lymph nodes in the arms, legs, or other areas of the body are affected by treatment, is very common for breast cancer survivors. You can help prevent lymphedema by telling your doctor about swelling or signs of infection; keeping your arms and legs free of cuts, insect bites and sunburn; and eating a well-balanced, protein-rich diet.

Cognitive issues resulting from chemotherapy, commonly known as “chemo brain,” may linger after treatment. Those experiencing learning or memory problems should talk to their oncologist and care team about ways to improve cognitive function and work around problematic points. Many people find that writing things down, setting up reminders and talking themselves through tasks helps them alleviate symptoms.

Cancer survivors may also experience emotional side effects after treatment. Approximately one in four cancer patients experience depression at some point, and for many, that point is after treatment. No matter when it occurs, it is extremely important to talk to your doctor immediately if you have any signs of depression.

Many cancer survivors struggle with adjusting to their new body and appearance, especially those who have experienced dramatic changes. Good communication with your partner, physical activity and healthy eating all help boost self-esteem and acceptance of the changes.

Lastly, many cancer survivors find it difficult to adjust to a “new normal” in relationships with friends, coworkers or family members. Support groups, therapy or even a simple one-on-one chat can help overcome communication barriers. Your oncology care team can provide suggestions for starting that conversation.

You may notice many of these suggestions involve talking to your doctor. The special relationship between a doctor and a patient doesn’t end with treatment. Life after cancer doesn’t have to be controlled by the side effects of treatment, and oncologists and their teams can help. Whether the challenges after cancer are physical or emotional, there are effective ways to adjust to a new normal. Visit www.TexasOncology.com to learn more.

By Dr. Billie Marek, Texas Oncology–McAllen

This story originally appeared in Healthy Magazine. To view this story, please click here.

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