How Will I Cope If I Have Breast Cancer
What Can I Expect After Surgery?
After you wake up from your surgery, you will find a dressing on your wound and tubes inserted in the operated area to drain extra fluids to make the wound heal faster. It may be shocking to feel that a lot of tissue has been removed from your breast area during surgery.
If you have been advised to undergo mastectomy, with the loss of your breast you may feel a sense of loss of femininity. This can lead to severe psychological problems in life. You have the right to opt for breast reconstruction.
Consult your doctor and ensure that you are given the choice of breast reconstruction, if not immediately, at least after the rest of the treatment has been administered. If you receive immediate breast reconstruction you will return from the operation theatre with a new breast.
Managing Yourself after Surgery
Usually you can get out of bed the day after the operation. And after a few days, you are allowed to go home. The number of days you spend in hospital depends upon the extent of your operation. You may have some discomfort after the operation. The stitches can feel tight. If you have had axillaries node dissection you may have further discomfort under the arm. You can request for painkillers to reduce the discomfort.
Many patients can get up and walk around the same day. By the following day you may be able to take normal food and move around. You will be advised not to bathe pr shower until the tubes are removed and the wound begins to heal.
After the operation, you will be given proper positioning of the arm and exercises to help in preventing stiffness and managing the swelling. You will be advised to continue with these exercises after returning home.
You may not feel any pain during this time. At first a discoloured or swollen looking neat line of stitches will be seen where your surgery was done. Gradually the discoloration and swelling disappear. After many months, the scar of the stitches will also fade and become faint. You may feel pins and needles shooting across your chest area and even some numbness near the scar and under the arm.
Lymphoedema (Big Arm or Heavy Arm)
The normal drainage of fluids in the arm can be affected after the removal of lymph nodes in the arm pit. It can also happen due to radiotherapy which may leave some scarring in the lymph node area. This may cause some swelling to occur in the upper arm area.
A few women experience the swelling for longer period due to prolonged poor drainage in the arm. If the swelling continues, and in some cases, the arm may hurt, feel heavy and tight and look reddish, consult your doctor for advice. This condition is called lymphoedema.
There are ways to prevent the occurrence of lymphoedema. As they say listen to your body. Here are some ways to practice prevention of lymphoedema:
- Try not to use your affected arm for injections and blood pressure
- Avoid unnecessary massage on the affected arm unless done by a medical professional
- Avoid wearing anything tight in that arm
- Avoid jerky movements in all your activities
- Stop doing things when your arm feels tired
- Do not lift very heavy things. However, there are breast cancer survivors who do weight lifting and row the dragon boats
- Avoid exposing your arm to very hot water
- Wear gloves when gardening
- If you have an insect bite, burn or bruises on your arm, deal with it immediately
- Doing regular light exercise for the arm helps
- If your arm hurts or feels tired, lie down and raise your arm on a pillow
Looking at Yourself
It is recommended to look at the result of the operation while still in hospital. The doctors and nurses will be at hand to give you the support if you require it. It is important to acknowledge that you have lost a breast and you may need to grieve for it the breast care nurse or a volunteer survivor will be able to help you through your grieving process. It is particularly easier to talk to someone who may know how you feel such as a breast cancer survivor.
The use of an artificial breast, also called prosthesis, usually made of fibre or silicone is one way of gaining confidence in yourself. In fact, the prosthesis will help restore the body’s balance. The weight of the prosthesis supports the chest wall which helps to eliminate strain on the shoulders and back. It moves with the body giving you full freedom and complete confidence for normal activities. There are also silicone prosthesis available in the market:
Breast Care Centre
Ground Floor, Block C,
Pantai Medical Centre
8, Jalan Bukit Pantai 59100 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-22960954/03-22960888 ext 2954
Lot1.06, 1st Floor,
Ampwalk 218, Jalan Ampang,
50450 Kuala Lumpur
Can Care Health Systems Sdn Bhd
109, 1st Floor, Lobby 3, Block A
Damansara Intan (Next to Tropicanca City Mall)
1, Jalan SS20/27, 47400 PJ Selangor
Tel: 6016-5403636 or 6012-4567889
website: www.cancare.com.sg Subang Jaya Medical Centre
1, Jalan SS12/1A,
MedisiaMedic Sdn Bhd
74D, Wisma Siah Brothers
Jalan Pahang, 53000 KL
Email:email@example.com Inner Secrets
Lot 233B, Level 2, Ampang Mall,
Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur City Centre
Temporary Prosthesis by BCWA
The hand-made fibre prosthesis is sewn by our volunteers in BCWA. It can be used soon after your wound has healed and dried up. It is advisable to purchase the silicone prosthesis after the swelling on the wound subsides and the tissues are back to normal.
There are women who find it comfortable to wear the hand-made fibre prosthesis on a permanent basis. The silicon or fibre prosthesis should be changed when it loses its firmness.
Specific drugs are introduces into the blood stream to kill any cancer cells that may have spread beyond your breast to other parts of your body. Usually a combination of drugs is given. There are different regimes of drugs that can be prescribed. Although most drugs are given intravenously, some are given orally as well.
There will be side effects depending on the type of drugs you receive and your own personal body chemistry. You may experience nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, temporary hair loss, tiredness, mouth sores, diarrhoea, sexual problems, weight loss, weight gain or sleeplessness. Then again, in some cases you may only experience mild side effects.
Nausea and Vomiting is the most well-known side effects of chemo drugs. No one can tell how sick you may feel. Patients tend to develop their own routines to help themselves. Some prefer to have a light meal before treatment. Avoid fatty and fried food before and after treatment.
Temporary Hair Loss is the other most well-known side effect. It is an individual reaction and depends on the drug given. It will grow back when your chemotherapy is over. It does not usually fall out all at once, but begins to drop gradually so that you notice it on your pillow or around the plug hole in the bath or shower. You might feel comfortable wearing a wig, scarf or hat during the period of hair loss. You may borrow a wig from BCWA if you do not want to purchase one.
Tiredness may be felt by most people after chemotherapy. Many people find that after a rest at this time, they regain their energy before the next treatment session.
Mouth Sores can be soothed using a soft tooth brush, rinsing your mouth regularly and sucking on ice chips. Talk to your doctor if the soreness becomes a problem.
Diarrhoea can be a problem if the lining of the intestine is weakened by chemotherapy. It may be good to avoid high fibre foods for a while and eat small amounts little and often.
Sexual Problems Chemotherapy drugs can affect the ovaries which cause menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, irregular periods and vagina dryness. Chemotherapy, in most cases, will not affect your ability or desire to have sex. However, some people find that the stress of dealing with cancer makes them feel more tired than usual. Thus you may want to set aside some time for physical intimacy after you have had a rest. It is advisable not to become pregnant at this time. If you have any concerns about sex, try to discuss them with your doctor or a breast cancer survivor.
Effects on Skin and Nails You may have minor skin problems (redness, itching, peeling, dryness and acne) while you are having chemotherapy. Your nails may become darkened, brittle or cracked.
Constipation Some chemotherapy drugs may cause constipation. Consult doctor if your bowel movements are off-schedule.
Drugs and Herbs Many drugs react adversely if taken together with other forms of medication or treatment. So during chemotherapy, you should inform your doctor regarding ALL medication and special diets taken including vitamins and herbs.
It is a form of treatment using high-intensity x-rays to damage and kill cancer cells. Doctor use radiation in two instances, firstly to help shrink the size of the tumour and secondly, to kill or damage any cancer cells that remain around the tumour after the surgery. The treatment is painless and each session lasts only a couple of minutes. You may be given the radiation therapy daily for three to six weeks.
- The skin in the treatment area needs special care:
- Don’t rub or scrub your skin
- Don’t use any soap, deodorants, perfumes, cosmetics or other products in the treated area without your doctor’s approval
- Never put anything hot or cold such as heating pad and ice pack on the treated area
- Wear comfortable clothing such as cotton and other soft materials
Tamoxifen is the most common drug in hormone treatment today. It is in the form of a tablet to be taken daily for a period of five years. It can induce early onset of menopause. The side effects of hormone therapy could include mild nausea, weight gain, vaginal discharge or dryness, hot flushes or sweating in younger women, early menopause or menstrual irregularity. However, most women may experience menopause and vaginal discharge.
It is a harmless form of remedy that helps people in their well being, emotionally and physically, thereby strengthening the recovery process. However, it does not have a direct benefit on the cancer. At a time of profound vulnerability, complementary therapy can help you to be more focused to put the various aspects of your life in perspective and to create a positive outlook of life.
Some example of complementary therapy are Visualisation, Meditation, faith/ prayer, reading motivational and inspirational books, laughter therapy, watching comedy plays or movies, yoga, Qigong and aromatherapy. Also:
- Taking Care of Yourself
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Take a good, sound, nutritious diet
- Drink at least eight glasses of water daily
- Use sugar in moderatio
- Decrease fat intake
- Increase low fat fibre (fruits, vegetable, fish, lean meat, low fat and high fibre)
- Take vitamins in moderation
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Avoid burnt food
At the time of vulnerability, many women and their families seek the help of alternative treatment and refuse or discontinue the medical treatment. You may meet well meaning people who would persuade you to get treatment from sources that do not have scientifically proven methods or medication. For any treatment to be effective, it has to undergo clinical trials before being accepted as a valid treatment for the disease. Check with your doctor if you are interested in getting any kind of scientifically unproven treatment.
How Is Your Family Taking It?
Your husband may feel left out, helpless and anxious. He may seem withdrawn and could be misunderstood as uncaring. He could be facing difficulty in expressing his emotions to you. You could help by talking to him about your situation and feelings and you could ask him how he feels. It does help to share your inner fears and feelings with your partner.
You may be at a loss on how to break the news of your breast cancer to your children. It is very important to inform your children regardless of their age. In this way, your children will feel a sense of belonging and be able to participate in your treatment and recovery process. Even very young children should be informed so that they do not feel guilty as a result of being excluded from family matters. How to discuss your illness depends on their age, maturity level and your own needs. By discussing your condition and your treatment management and side effects in advance can help achieve the following:
- Enable them to live as normal life as possible
- Remind that you, or no one else, expects them to grieve all the time
- Set a time limit, say three or four months, when you will need their help
- Don’t rely on them too heavily for emotional support. No matter how adult they may seem from time to time, they are still children
- Don’t force them to talk. There will be times when they will want to talk and times when they will not. In this case, let them take the lead.
Other Sources of Support
Talking to women with breast cancer and joining a support group can help you cope and deal with your breast cancer experience. Supportive relatives, friends and colleagues are a great help. The breast care nurse can give you support and relevant information on managing yourself.