While transitioning out of active treatment into survivorship can be relieving, it can stir up many emotions and questions. To help you prepare for life after cancer, surgeon Amrit Mangat, MD, answers questions about survivorship and remission.
What happens when I enter into remission? What’s next?
Typically after treatment is completed and the cancer has been eliminated, both your medical oncologist and breast surgeon will have you follow up periodically so they can monitor your progress and health. In most cases, your surgeon will provide follow-up care for about five years. Your medical oncologist may continue to monitor your health for a bit longer, ranging from five to ten years after you have ended active treatment. During this time, your care team will work with you to help you re-establish a healthy and active lifestyle and discuss ways to reduce your risk of recurrence.
What if the cancer comes back?
In most cases, the cancer will not recur. If the cancer does recur, or a new cancer is identified, your treatment plan will depend on the cancer staging and location. If the cancer is localized to the breast tissue, you will likely undergo surgery to remove the cancer. If the cancer has spread to areas outside of your breast, your medical oncologist and care team will perform a comprehensive evaluation and develop a treatment plan that is right for you.
What if the side effects from my treatments don’t resolve?
Recovery time from surgery is fairly quick. For lumpectomy procedures, a typical recovery time is about two to three weeks. Mastectomy surgery is slightly longer, usually taking between six to eight weeks to return to normal activity. Other side effects like fatigue and nausea can develop and linger during chemotherapy treatments. The duration and severity of symptoms can be different for each person and depend on the types of medications used in your chemotherapy treatments and your body’s reaction to them. If you are having issues with severe or prolonged side effects, you should speak with your medical oncologist about how to manage them.
What if my immune system is weakened from treatment? Am I at risk for other health conditions?
As with recovery from any surgical procedure, following chemotherapy or radiation treatment, your body’s immune system may be temporarily weakened. As your body heals, it is important to take precautions to minimize your exposure to germs and bacteria that can make you sick. Wash your hands, especially after using the restroom or spending time in public places. Avoiding contact with sick individuals can also help. Regular check ups with your primary care physician are also important to keep a close eye on your health.
What if I need ongoing emotional support?
We partner with several community-based organizations to provide patients and their families with access to the physical and emotional support services that may be needed. Our Integrated Oncology Program includes nurse navigators and social workers who can help connect you with community resources throughout your treatment. I also encourage patients to lean on their family and friends during their treatment. You are not alone, so don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help!
Transitioning from active treatment into routine preventive care and surveillance can be an emotional time. Once you have completed your treatment and all postoperative appointments with your surgeon and medical and/or radiation oncologist, members of our dedicated breast services team will work closely with your physician to provide you with ongoing support, including symptoms to monitor for in the years to come and general recommendations to maintain your overall health.
During the month of October, in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness month, we want to make screening as easy as possible. That’s why we are offering free clinical breast exams with a healthcare professional throughout the month at several of our suburban Chicago locations. For a list of available dates, times and locations, visit dulyhealthandcare.com/FREECBE/. To schedule your exam, call 630−545−7659.