Lt Col Flemings
Recovery from breast cancer surgery and treatment involves a wide range of physical and emotional components. Dr. Malone, will you tell us about life after treatment?
Absolutely, Dr. Flemings. Healthcare providers encourage women with breast cancer to return to their normal activities as soon as possible after treatment. The recovery period varies substantially from one woman to another. This depends on the types of treatment administered, whether the disease has spread, and other factors.
The physical recovery begins soon after surgery. It often helps to exercise the arm and shoulder in order to regain motion and strength in these areas. These exercises can also reduce pain and stiffness in the neck and back. As part of the breast cancer recovery process, special exercises may be recommended. These exercises can begin as soon as the provider feels the woman is ready, often within a day or two after surgery. Exercising will start out slowly, sometimes while the patient is still recovering in bed. In some cases, a physical therapist will direct the exercise program. As the patient heals, the exercise can become more rigorous, and part of a regular routine.
Changes in diet and exercise are fairly common, as patients are determined to take care of themselves to reduce the chance of the cancer recurring. Healthy changes like these can also have the added benefit of reducing stress and restoring energy.
Many women who undergo surgical treatment for breast cancer will also undergo breast reconstruction, either at the time of surgery or at a later date. Breast reconstruction rebuilds the contour of the breast, along with the nipple and areola, if desired.
There are two primary methods of reconstructing the breast: implant and muscle flap reconstruction. With breast implants, a tissue expander is placed beneath the skin and chest muscle to stretch the skin before the implants are inserted.
Muscle flap reconstruction involves using tissue taken from the patient’s back, stomach or buttocks to rebuild the contour of the breast. A plastic surgeon will help determine the best type of reconstruction, based on the patient’s age and body type.
The emotional recovery can be just as important as the physical recovery. Emotional issues are common, including depression and fears about whether or not the cancer will return. These are natural concerns, and can be quite stressful. Women who have gone through cancer treatment describe the first few months as a time of change. Patients often say that life has new meaning or that, having faced their mortality, they look at life from a new perspective.
It’s important for patients to develop a wellness plan that includes ways to address physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. This may include physical rehabilitation, counseling, or group support. Your provider can help you design a wellness plan that will work best for you.