“Normal Life” After Breast Cancer Helped by New City of Hope Initiative

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People don’t just snap back from breast cancer treatment, and the progress for emotional recovery is even less predictable than that for physical healing. Whether you’re delivering beauty services to help a client’s healing process or you’re the one recovering from the disease, patience will likely be required.

City of Hope is helping people express their feelings about cancer and recovery with its new initiative Community of the Hopeful, an online space at hopeful.org that City of Hope created for people touched by cancer to make connections, share stories, offer support and seek advice. New personal entries are posted weekly, offering everything from recipes to the latest medical developments. Breast cancer is a frequent focus.

“After recovery from breast cancer it’s natural to experience emotions like grief,” says Ruby Bañuelos Calhoun, a clinical social worker in the Department of Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope. “Some women feel guilty because they think they should be happy they survived, or insecure because they’re grieving over their appearance. Every patient’s situation is different.”

Encouraging recovering patients to “be kind to yourself,” Calhoun reports that talking about their fears helps mastectomy patients manage their new reality. Women worry that their current partner will not accept the body change, while single women fear they won’t find a partner because of the mastectomy.

“Just talking to someone about sexual issues can be a big help,” Calhoun notes. “It’s healthy to have open communication, even if you’re not comfortable talking with your partner or physician. Some women feel more comfortable talking with a nurse or social worker.” Reconstructive surgery is a good choice in many cases, Calhoun adds. She points out that life after cancer can provide an opportunity to adopt a more nutritious diet and start a regular exercise regimen, which will improve the person’s health, appearance, self-esteem and overall wellbeing. But it’s also natural to fear recurrence and have lingering trauma from the battle. Calhoun advises survivors to acknowledge negative thoughts and then refocus and let them go.

“Meditation is a great tool for coping,” she says. “It’s a way to quiet the mind and focus entirely on the present moment without looking ahead or dwelling on the past. And when a negative thought comes to mind, you simply recognize it for what it is—just a thought that will drift away as easily as it came.” If it doesn’t, a therapist or support group can be a great help.

Calhoun recommends going back to whatever brought you joy before the illness, such as work, family, a hobby or spirituality. Just don’t isolate yourself.

“I’m always available to connect with patients even after they are fully treated,” Calhoun says. “There’s never a point where my role is over as long as someone needs help finding resources to deal with physical or emotional issues—or just to talk.”

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