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In Treatment For Breast Cancer: Managing Your Medical Care


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Practical tips to help make it easier to get through treatment as well as possible

  • Do your best to live a lifestyle that helps your body function at its disease-healing best. This includes the food you eat, exercise if permitted by your doctor, and getting rest.
  • Don't be surprised if all kinds of emotions show up - particularly anxiety or depression. Don't let your feelings interfere with getting medical care. There are steps to take to help, including medications. (Emotions are discussed in: In Treatment For Breast Cancer: Emotional Well Being
  • If needed, home care is available. It may be covered by your health insurance.
  • Take precautions to avoid unnecessary infection.
  • Keep in mind tips about how to maximize limited time with a doctor. For instance, 
    • Keep a symptoms diary between visits. (Survivorship A to Z provides a free easy-to-use diary. Click here.)
    • Learn the meaning of the basic medical words that are likely to come up so conversations can be faster and more precise.
  • If you have a question or problems during office hours, go ahead and call the doctor. If you have a problem that you do not think can wait until morning, call at night. It’s better to call the doctor than end up in the hospital with a serious complication that should have been treated hours ago. Most doctors have 24 hour answering services.
  • Ask the doctor what would be considered to be an emergency so you know what to do if events happen. Pack an emergency bag "just in case."
  • If money for treatment or living while undergoing treatment is a concern, see How To Maximize Use Of Your Health Insurance and Breast Cancer: Finances
  • At the end of treatment, be sure to get a Follow-Up Medical Plan. (To learn more, click here). 

Side Effects

No matter what treatment you are undergoing, there is likely some degree of pain or other unpleasant side effect. Side effects are a price for regaining health or at least minimizing the effects of breast cancer. 

  • By and large, side effects can be minimized and possibly eliminated. 
  • One possible side effect from chemotherapy that cannot be eliminated is early menopause.
  • Report to your oncologist all unexpected side effects or side effects which are more severe than expected.

While Undergoing Chemotherapy:

  • Do not be surprised if starting treatment makes cancer feel real.
  • It will likely take longer than you prefer to find out if the treatment is working.
  • Do not be surprised or depressed if the initial chemotherapy does not work. 
  • Keep in mind that treatment decisions may change as treatment goes along. A change does not mean that the original treatment was wrong. Medicine is a combination of science and art.
  • If needed, transportation is available to and from treatment.
  • Chemotherapy affects your immune system which exposes you to infection. Pay particular attention to avoiding infection. For instance, check the quality of the local water supply.
  • It is not advisable to become pregnant during chemotherapy.

If You Have A Mastectomy

Learn how to stay safe and comfortable in hospital. One important tip is to make sure people disinfect their hands before touching you. Another is to have someone with you to act as patient advocate.

Before being discharged from a hospital:

  • Get a discharge plan and a follow-up plan so you know what to expect, how to deal with it, what to do and not do, and when to call the doctor.
  • Pre-arrange a follow-up appointment with your doctor.
  • Request a copy of your medical records to take or to have mailed to you.
  • Don’t pay a bill without checking it.
  • Learn what to do after discharge from the hospital: see: Breast Cancer: After Treatment: 0 – 6 Months

If You Have Radiation Treatment

  • Don't be surprised if the start of treatment makes cancer feel real.
  • Your breast and affected area will show an effect like a burn. Treat the area to make it feel better and foster healing.
  • Fatigue and nausea may appear after awhile. They are treatable.
  • Keep in mind that treatment decisions may change as treatment goes along. A change does not mean that the original treatment was wrong. Medicine is a combination of science and art.
  • If needed, transportation is available to and from treatment.
  • If you are uncomfortable in a hospital gown, make your own or buy a substitute.
  • Avoid getting pregnant during radiation treatment.

Complementary/Alternative Treatments

Only consider so called "complementary" or "alternative" treatments as complementary to Western medicine - not instead of it. There is no scientific proof that such treatments by themselves cure breast cancer.

If A Treatment Does Not Work

There are likely other treatments to use. Discuss alternatives with your doctor.

If your situation is unusual, consider researching other treatments yourself or hire a research service.  Discuss what you find with your doctor. If you feel as if you need one, get a second opinion. (It will likely be covered by your health insurance.)

If you have an advanced case of breast cancer, and the treatment is not working, consider modifying the goal of treatment to preserve your quality of life.

For more information, see:

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