If you’re one of the 2 million breast cancer survivors in the US today, you know that battling cancer is no small feat. But after cancer goes into remission, you might think the hard part’s over, right? Not always.
Although the tools we use to fight cancer—from chemotherapy to surgery—can be life-saving, they also can affect fertility, sexual function, body image, and contraceptive needs. Some anti-cancer medications can also increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Symptoms such as vaginal dryness, decreased sex drive, and hot flashes are common, but compared with cancer, they may not seem worthy of a complaint. And even if you felt strong and didn’t lean heavily on others for emotional support during the initial cancer treatments, the long-term effects of “being an island” can erode relationships and lead to depressive symptoms. All of these treatable symptoms can have a very real effect on your quality of life. You’ve been through enough, and there’s no need to suffer in silence.
Talk to your doctor about your symptoms. He or she can recommend lubricating creams or gels to combat vaginal dryness, or suggest relaxation and dietary changes to help reduce hot flashes. You and your doctor should discuss your contraceptive options to prevent pregnancy or talk about fertility concerns if you’re considering getting pregnant in the future. Reduce your risk of bone loss or fractures through lifestyle changes such as weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise, quitting smoking, and consuming less alcohol. If you are depressed, your doctor can refer you to counselors or support groups.
No matter the problem, your doctor should know about it and may be able to help. Keep an open line of communication after your treatment ends, and speak up. You’ll be glad you did.