Most people know someone who has struggled with breast cancer — and there is a good reason for that. According to statistics from the Breast Cancer Society, 1 in 8 American women will develop this serious condition and it is estimated that in 2015 alone, 231,840 women will be newly diagnosed. Survival rates depend on many factors — but no matter what the outcome, a woman fighting this disease faces some unique challenges, such as those below.
They Can Have Difficulty Eating
Breast cancer patients, like all cancer patients, benefit from a balanced diet that helps them to strengthen their bodies and immune systems and to heal up from surgery. Women know that this is the case and will try to eat healthy as much as possible. However, side effects of cancer treatments — such as nausea, mouth sores, fatigue and constipation or diarrhea — can make good nutrition an ongoing challenge. That is one of the reasons why women can lose so much weight during their cancer battle. Small, frequent meals, high-quality snacks and even supplemental nutritional shakes like Boost or Ensure can help with this problem.
They Can Have Chronic Fatigue
Many women report that, from one day to the next, the symptom of cancer which is most difficult to deal with is fatigue. Often, someone battling breast cancer can wake up feeling exhausted even after a good night’s sleep. This can make everyday activities like bathing, dressing or preparing a meal a lot more difficult. What’s also hard about this is that the fatigue can last a long time, even when the cancer is in remission. Because of this, many women will take naps throughout the day and alternate periods of rest with periods of activity. Also, pacing activities throughout the day can help.
They Can Have Low Libido and Fear of Intimacy
Many cancer patients suffer from low libido or sex drive during the course of their treatment, mostly because of issues like pain, fatigue and nausea. However, if part of a woman’s treatment is the removal of one or both breasts, this issue can be heightened even further. Breasts are a large part of many women’s sexuality and dealing with their loss can be difficult. Many women will opt for lingerie or other slinky wear for intimate moments and it can take a long time for a woman to feel comfortable with her partner seeing her naked again. Good communication and a lot of patience and loving support can make coping with this issue easier.
They Can Have Problems at Work
Many women – especially those in the thirties, forties or fifties — will choose to continue working even as they receive cancer treatment. However, there are a lot of factors which make worse more — or less – difficult to handle, including whether or not the job is very physical, if it is possible to telecommute or work from home and even the willingness of one’s supervisor to be flexible about job duties and working hours. Also, women can sometimes face discrimination at work during or after their cancer battle, such as being passed up for promotion due to their illness. Many women have brought law suits up due to this particular problem.
They Appreciate Emotional Support
Sometimes coworkers, family or friends can have a hard time knowing what to say to someone who is going through cancer treatments. But shows of support do help and can mean a lot to someone who is fighting this disease. “Get well” cards, offers to help with housekeeping or dog-walking, or even just coming over for a cup of coffee and a chat can all help a breast cancer patient feel less lonely and also help them realize that they are loved and appreciated. This emotional support can make the fight against breast cancer a little easier.
They Still Like to be Fashionable!
Between fatigue, hair loss from chemo and too much weight loss, breast cancer can take a toll on the way a woman looks — and more importantly how she feels about herself. This can lead to problems like social isolation and even depression if women choose to withdraw from others due to their altered appearance. However, wigs or fashionable hats or scarves to cover hair loss and the use of prosthetic bras under clothing can help a woman feel attractive again and promote an overall good quality of life during and after cancer treatment.
In short, breast cancer is a complicated disease — and for the women who are battling it, life can seem complicated, too, and there are many challenges that they face that others have not thought about. However, just a show of emotional support — even with something as simple as a hug — can make these challenges easier to overcome.