For the woman who has battled breast cancer, hearing “you’re in remission” doesn’t so much refer to the end of the journey, but to the beginning of a new one. Life after breast cancer treatment is in many ways filled with positives: celebrations, gratitude, and newfound strength. At the same time, the road ahead may still have some bumps in store. Below is some information to support those who are beginning the journey that takes place after being told they are “cancer free.”

Hair Regrowth

A number of cancer treatments can cause hair to thin or fall out completely. Although every case is different, once treatment is complete, hair growth will resume and patients will begin to see the return of hair that was lost. It may be a few weeks or a few months before hair follicles begin producing hair again, depending on the severity and type of treatment that was received, and hair that grows after treatment may have a different texture or color.

What You Can Do

  • Use gentle products to wash your hair as it regrows – products intended for babies/children are ideal for nurturing new hair growth
  • If having thin, short, or absent hair causes you to feel self-conscious, continue wearing any favorite wigs or hats while you wait for your hair to re-grow to your desired length.
  • When considering a first post-treatment haircut, find an experienced hairdresser who will be able to adapt to any treatment-related changes in your hair and create a positive experience

Managing Scars

Whether from a biopsy, a lumpectomy, a mastectomy, or radiation treatment, patients who have been treated for breast cancer are often left with scars. Scarring can stand as a sign of a victory against cancer but may become an issue for some patients. It is possible to experience nerve pain or numbness in areas that are scarred, and some scars may appear red and/or lumpy initially (but should become paler and smoother over time).

What You Can Do

  • If you have scars in areas not normally covered by clothing, take care to protect them from sunlight as scar tissue is particularly sensitive to the sun
  • Wear loose and/or soft clothing that will not rub against or aggravate scarred areas
  • If scars are persistent or painful, talk with your doctor about treatment options

Weight Changes

It is not uncommon for those who have gone through cancer treatment to experience either weight loss or weight gain. Drastic weight changes can result from treatment methods, psychological stressors/anxiety, and decreased physical activity due to fatigue. A weight fluctuation of a few pounds is negligible, but a gain or loss of 5 – 10% of a patient’s body weight is worth addressing post-treatment. While both weight loss and gain have been known to occur in patients during treatment, weight gain is the more common of the two.

What You Can Do

  • Talk with your doctor or a registered dietician to determine a healthy diet plan
  • Find ways to engage in physical activities (ideally 3-5 hours per week), taking care not to strain any areas that may have been weakened by treatment
  • If muscle loss occurred during treatment, consider strength-building exercises
  • Drink plenty of water

Emotional Stress

Many patients feel like the completion of cancer treatment should be defined by joy, but they are surprised to find that they are not joyful. It is not uncommon for cancer survivors to feel some degree of depression or anxiety post-treatment, and it often takes time for patients to feel that they are truly free of cancer. Even re-adjusting to the typical activities of everyday life may require more effort than anticipated.

What You Can Do

  • Remember that feelings of sadness and anxiety are natural
  • Confide in a trusted friend or family member
  • Be patient with yourself – recovery will take time
  • Consider joining a cancer survivors support group that can aid you in the recovery process
  • Eat a healthy diet and find a means of engaging in physical fitness
  • Thoroughly discuss any medical questions you have with your doctor; equipping yourself with ample knowledge may increase your feeling of control over your body and your future
  • Do not skip follow-up appointments
  • If you experience long-term stress, depression, or anxiety, talk with your doctor about the best course of action and consider speaking with a therapist