life after breast cancer

One Woman’s Story: Anna, Life After Breast Cancer

As I crossed the “finish line” in the pouring cold rain, I felt the exhilaration of my accomplishment, knowing that I had begun to trust myself again. I realized that it had taken a long time for me to finally come to terms with the disease that had threatened my life.

A few years before, having finished my treatments for breast cancer, I believed that I needed to put the entire experience behind me. I decided that I was finished with it all – the private stomach-knotting fears that hit me before each follow- up test, the utter exhaustion I had felt during radiation therapy, the tightness under my arm from the surgery to remove my axillary nodes, the worry that a recurrence might require chemotherapy. I was certain that I could put it all away and never think about it or talk about it anymore.

And here I was in good health, not thinking much about breast cancer except during my check-up appointments. Yet there was a part of me that felt like I had never really acknowledged the sisterhood I shared with millions of other women who had had breast cancer, that I had been so busy protecting myself from my feelings that I had not fully experienced them.

When I heard about the event, pairing fund-raising for charity with a strenuous challenging physical activity, I immediately knew that participating would not only help others but would also help me acknowledge the sense of vulnerability that sometimes overwhelmed and deeply saddened me. I hoped that taking part in the event would help me begin to trust my body and eventually feel whole again.

At first the goal, walking 60 miles in three days, seemed like an impossible task but I decided to make the commitment. Soon I began to learn so much about myself: I could set a challenging goal that I could accomplish, I could open up to the support of others without feeling like I was weaker myself, I could set aside time and energy “just” for me, I could enjoy a mysterious, close bond with so many other women just because we had shared a life-defining experience. And, in the end I learned that with unconditional support from those women and other friends and family, I could trust myself to accomplish a difficult goal.

Finally with the acknowledgement and recognition that I allowed myself to accept after I crossed the finish line, through my tears, I knew that I would have the strength to continue rebuilding myself, body and soul. **********************************************************************************

Stepping Stones: Journey Towards Health

Anna began to take several steps that helped her cope with her breast cancer. You may also find some of these helpful if you are faced wtih a serious illness.

(1) ACCEPT AND EXPRESS YOUR EMOTIONS. After a brush with cancer, it is normal to feel many different emotions such as anger, fear, worry, anxiety, depression, stress or loss of control. It is important to express these to people you trust and acknowledge them to yourself. Only then can you begin to cope with them.

(2) RECOGNIZE THE CHANGES IN YOUR BODY. You may feel that your body has betrayed you, leaving you feeling vulnerable and with a loss of innocence about your own invincibility. You will need to grieve this loss. In addition, you may be experiencing side effects of the treatment such as fatigue, stiffness, lymphedema, weight gain, as well as menopausal symptoms. Once you clarify for yourself how your body is reacting, you can address each of the symptoms in your efforts to alleviate them.

(3) ENJOY THE SUPPORT OF OTHERS. Your family and friends can provide a network of support for you. Breast cancer support groups, either in person or on-line, may also be helpful. Support is beneficial in several ways: someone to listen to you when you need to express yourself, someone to give you information and feedback, someone to help you with practical matters such as an errand that needs to be done. Support will be there for you if you look for it and ask for it.

(4) TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Pamper yourself – you deserve it. Set aside time for beginning or continuing an exercise program that includes aerobics, flexibility and strengthening exercises. Enjoy eating a more healthful diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Schedule relaxation time for yourself to decrease the stresses in your life. Learn visualization techniques. Think about what you really like to do and do it.

(5) REDIRECT YOURSELF TOWARD ACTIVE GOAL SETTING. In order to regain control of your life, reflect on what priorities are important to you and then set a goal within your reach. Identify your strengths and build on them as you plan how to achieve your objectives. Journaling may be helpful to you as you consider strategies and options. Initiate your plan in small steps and review your progress.

(6) MAKE SOMETHING POSITIVE COME OUT OF THE SITUATION. Women who are able to find some positive meaning in such a negative situation often experience growth as well as a greater sense of control and feelings of confidence and optimism. Think about how you can use the unique perspective you have gained to make the rest of your life richer and more meaningful.

(7) TAKE CREDIT FOR THE CHALLENGE AND THE CHANGE. Recognize and accept that you have faced a difficult challenge in your process of healing. Give yourself credit for the hard work you have completed to get to this point in your recovery. You have learned about yourself and made changes in the way you think, feel, act and react to yourself, others and the situation around you.

We hope you can find in Anna’s story what resonates for you and tailor those Steps to your own situation. We will be here to help you with more stories and “Stepping Stones” in the months to come.


Recommended Resources: Websites and Books to Explore

(1) The American Cancer Society has created a comprehensive and informative website, reached at with numerous, helpful sections. Among other things, you can find information about their volunteer activities, such as “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer,” or “Relay for Life,” and about their Breast Cancer Resource Center. They provide a list of books and websites of interest. There is a discussion area, “Cancer Survivors Network” for survivors and caregivers. You can also find the location of your local ACS office.

(2) There are many websites providing information about breast cancer and the opportunity to participate in message boards or chat rooms. You may want to communicate with other women who may be experiencing some of the same concerns you are. For example,The Women’s Information Network Against Breast Cancer operates a website at and Living Beyond Breast Cancer can be reached through (Please note that we do not endorse any advertisements that may be found on these sites.)

(3) If you would like to find out about alternative or complementary types of treatment for breast cancer, visit, for clear and accurate information. This is the official website of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

(4) There are many books written by other professionals to assist breast cancer survivors with their transition to recovery. You may want to look at “Living Beyond Breast Cancer: A Survivor’s Guide for When Treatment Ends and the Rest of Your Life Begins,” by Marisa C. Weiss, M.D. & Ellen Weiss or “Spinning Straw into Gold,” by Ronnie Kaye, a psychotherapist.


Our Invitation to You Do you have your own transition story? We invite you to share it with our readers for the benefit of women who themselves may be dealing with similar changes. The skills you used may be Stepping Stones for others. If you are interested, please e-mail us.

(c) HerMentorCenter, 2001