The end of active treatment can be an emotional time for breast cancer patients. Instead of feeling relieved and happy, some women find they feel lonely, anxious, stressed and vulnerable.
Concerned about body image, struggling with fatigue and frustration and often plagued with worry, many women need help navigating the sometimes rocky emotional road to recovery.
Catherine Carracher is Manager of the Enhance Breast Cancer Rehabilitation Program at Epworth. The program, which was established in late 2013, works with patients to maximise recovery and minimise the chance of recurrence.
“Better medicine, earlier intervention and awareness has seen survivorship rates increase over the last 20 years,” says Catherine. “Our patient profile has changed significantly as has the way we support these women. Helping them manage their emotional health is a priority.”
We asked Catherine to answer a few questions
Do women in recovery share common emotional experiences?
For many the biggest issue initially is working through their diagnosis and the impact on their life. The period immediately after diagnosis is intense and these women have had to make enormous, life-changing decisions in a very short period of time. Then treatment begins and they’re swept up in that. This is often the first chance they've had to really process what’s happened to them.
Many women struggle with strong feelings about their physical presentation and body image after treatment, which can get to the point where they avoid contact with friends and stop going out or doing the things they enjoy.
Relationships, whether they be with children, partners or even extended family and friends can also be strained. There can be issues around intimacy, fertility, work and financial stresses. Worry around cancer recurrence is common.
What can family and friends do?
It’s important to acknowledge that what the person is experiencing is real. Once active treatment is over families and friends can often think their loved one is ‘better’ or ‘over it’, but really it’s only the end of phase one.
Patients will often say they have trouble communicating their feelings with their families because they don’t want to burden them any more. They feel like their families have been wonderful and supportive and they don’t want to ask any more of them. Being open and willing to talk is very important.
How can Enhance help?
Enhance is a group program but we also provide one-on-one treatment. We’re different to a support group in that we are able to clinically support our clients through their recovery by linking them in with a range of health professionals.
Clients tell us they feel a great sense of camaraderie and support from the other women. Many say the group setting gave them back their confidence in themselves. After feeling like they lost control during their treatment, now they’re the ones driving their recovery.
Women in the program will frequently say “I didn't know what I needed until it was presented to me.” The average person doesn't know what an occupational therapist or psychologist might be able to do for them. We can help them understand their options and access the support they need.
Clients may be referred to the Enhance program through a GP, surgeon, breast cancer nurse or oncologist. If you would like more information, please call Epworth Rehabilitation Camberwell (03) 9809 2444 or Epworth Rehabilitation Hawthorn (03) 9415 5777.