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Today, there are more breast cancer survivors in the U.S. than any other group of cancer survivors. Three million, to be exact.
This staggering number means that in some way, breast cancer has probably touched the lives of at least a couple people you know. And it also means that more and more people are benefiting from early detection and advances in treatment. These days, breast cancer survivors often live long, satisfying, happy lives.
Here are a few tips for embracing your new normal and inspiring others along the way.
Even when treatment is over, your physical body and emotional spirit are still healing. It’s important to remember that fatigue and other side effects of treatment don’t go away as soon as treatment ends. Whether with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or all of the above, your body just went through a major trauma and needs time to heal.
When you’re experiencing considerable adjustments and maybe even pain, it’s common to wonder how to embrace the changes to your body, your lifestyle, and your family dynamic.
You might be anxious about going back to work, school, or having to take care of your family. You could still feel very, very tired. You might even experience cognitive problems after chemotherapy, including mental fogginess and trouble concentrating and multi-tasking. This condition is often called “chemo-brain” and usually goes away over time.
Another thing some people struggle with is how their hair is growing back -- thicker, thinner, curlier, or even different color. Hair loss and regrowth might seem like a trivial aspect of cancer treatment, but it can have a big impact on a person’s outlook and ability to feel like themselves again.
All of these feelings and concerns are completely normal. With a little patience and support from friends and family, and frequent checkups with your physician, you can gradually find your new normal.
Some people equate surviving cancer with getting a new lease on life. As a reason to ditch bad habits and focus on things that make you feel good -- inside and out. Eating a balanced diet high in antioxidants is one of the best and easiest ways to boost your health. There are even certain foods that can strengthen your immune system and help you maintain a healthy body weight, which are primary factors in the fight against cancer. There are many of these foods, including broccoli, tomatoes, blueberries and walnuts.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there is convincing evidence that physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of cancers of the colon and breast. But even more importantly, there’s also research that shows that regular exercise can reduce the recurrence of breast cancer.
Exercise can also play a huge role in helping cancer survivors feel energized again. Evidence shows that exercise boosts your mood, your memory and can even help reverse the effects of stress.
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to train for a marathon or join a powerlifting gym. Every bit of physical activity is beneficial and worthwhile. Consider pairing your activities with friends and enjoy the benefits of a little human connection, too.
Whether you’re looking for advice and strength from others, or are ready to share your experience with patients who have just started their cancer journeys, getting social is key. Reaching out to the community is a great way to gain confidence, find support and possibly even help others. While your own story is completely unique and personal, there are certain thoughts, feelings, fears and emotions that many breast cancer patients can benefit from sharing.
You might even find ways to share your cancer journey in a positive, meaningful way. You can be a shoulder for someone to cry on, or an ear someone can bend. You have the chance to be the person you needed when you were first diagnosed for someone else. Now that’s powerful stuff!
Life after breast cancer will have its ups and downs. Some days will be better than others, but you’ll always have a different, unique, perspective on life to draw from. Some breast cancer survivors choose to celebrate their journeys by throwing a party, going on a trip, planting a tree -- doing something special, memorable and meaningful.