How do you recover from chemotherapy?

A fellow caregiver asked...

I just went through the last chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. It was brutal! How do you recover from it?

Expert Answer

Linda Ackerman, R.N. has clinical experience in oncology, women's health, and medical nursing. She has been practicing for more than 20 years and is a licensed registered nurse in both Florida and Wisconsin. In addition, she serves as a board member of Breast Cancer Recovery and the Wisconsin Cancer Council.

Thank you for posing this question as I think many people may experience similar situations.

As I respond to your question, I am not certain if you referencing the physical side effects related to the chemotherapy, the diagnosis of cancer, and or the emotional stress of all of it. I will try to offer a response that will helpful to all these aspects.

Now that you have gone through the last chemo treatment, I would suggest initially allowing yourself some time to recover from both the physical and emotional stress that you have most likely undergone since your diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Perhaps revisit some of the activities you have not been able to do or enjoy during the time you were undergoing chemo.

Chemotherapy's side effects can be very difficult day to day, I am not sure what type of side effects you experienced, but now that you have finished your treatments, your body will begin to recover. Depending on what type of chemo you were given, it may take a number of months, but you will notice an increase in energy, your hair will begin to grow back and the fatigue should lessen.

However, just as the treatment of cancer is unique to each person, the physical and emotional state at completion of treatment may vary as well. Many people who have completed treatment work so hard at getting through the diagnosis of cancer, the surgery, chemotherapy and sometimes radiation that once the treatment is finished they are just not sure what is next.

At the same time, friends, caregivers and family members may believe that once someone finishes chemo they will want to rejoice. The reality for many is that a person finishing treatment may experience a wide variation of physical and emotional thoughts and concerns.

The one constant message patients have expressed to me over the years is that once they have completed chemotherapy treatment, they realize that they are in a new "˜normal'. They have expressed that they have been so focused on fighting the cancer, now they realize they need to begin to live again and or get back to normal, although their "normal" prior to the diagnosis of cancer may have been very different than the place they are at now.

I have included some ideas and additional reading materials. I believe it would be helpful for you to familiarize and gather some of the materials written specific to completing treatment, and survivorship. Then based on your own personality, belief and thoughts, sort out what may help you both initially and long term for your life.

I believe this statement from the American Cancer Society web site is insightful.

"You can't change the fact that you have had cancer. What you can change is how you live the rest of your life -- making healthy choices and feeling as well as possible, physically and emotionally."

Lastly, there is a new awareness nationally with emphasis on cancer survivorship. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Lance Armstrong Foundation have been leading public health efforts to address many of the issues faced by a growing number of survivors. In addition, the American Cancer Society is also a valuable resource.

For more information more please see the following links

[cancer survivors] ( CDC

[cancer survivors] ( NCI

[cancer survivors] ( NCI cancer survivorship and research

Tips going forward-

"¢ Seek out good follow-up care

"¢ Maintain healthy life style choices

"¢ Seek out a balance of rest/exercise/diet/personal time and work time

"¢ Think about your emotional health as just as important as your physical health

I wish you the best going forward in your life.