The goal of breast cancer treatment is for the cancer to go away. When this happens, you might be surprised to know that you will still have to visit your doctor and stay alert for signs of a recurrence, or return, of cancer.
Breast cancer survivors can face additional issues. These include:
- Surgical pain or scarring
- Long-term side effects of chemotherapy, such as:
- Temporary taste changes
- Affects on the health of organs, such as the heart
- "Chemo brain," a condition in which it might be difficult to think clearly, remember details or multi-task
- Lymphedema, a buildup of fluid in the arm on the same side as the cancer
- Emotional aftereffects of cancer and treatment
You and your doctors can work together to address these issues and keep you healthy. If the cancer returns, you will have to go through treatment again.
If Breast Cancer Treatment Fails
For some women, no treatment effectively fights their breast cancer. Once you and your medical team face this fact, there are some difficult choices to be made. The primary immediate decision is whether to continue to fight the cancer, using new treatments. At this point, you must weigh the slim possibility of success against quality of life and comfort.
If you decide you no longer want to fight the cancer, you and your medical team will discuss ways to improve your quality of life with cancer. You might be given medication to help manage pain, reduce other symptoms of cancer and to control the spread of the cancer. This is called palliative care.
This is also a good time to decide what kind of care you would like in the future. If you would prefer to be cared for at home, you have the opportunity to make your wishes known at this time and to play a role in organizing your in-home care. Options include full- or part-time nursing to assist your family and friends as well as hospice care that can provide comfort to all involved.
You should also get your house in order:
- Update your will.
- Update guardianship papers, if you have dependents.
- Make a health-care power of attorney, giving someone else the responsibility of carrying out your health-care decisions if you cannot.
- Make a living will to let your care providers know your wishes if you cannot express them yourself.
- Organize your financial records.
- Put important papers, such as mortgage documents, deeds, titles and court decisions, in one location.
- Let at least one person you trust know where all these papers are to be found.
- Inform those you have chosen to carry out your wishes precisely what your choices are.