How Will My Doctor Know My Treatment Worked?

Question: How will my doctor know if the treatments for my breast cancer worked, and what tests are done after my treatments have been completed to check if my breast cancer has recurred?

Answer: After you've worked so hard to take care of yourself and done everything the doctors have told you to -- surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, whatever you had -- at the very end of all that, you can often feel insecure and anxious, wondering, "How do I know that all those treatments I went through worked?" and "Why do I need to see my doctors again?"

Some women like to see their doctors every day as frequently as possible, and some women never want to see their doctors again. There's only one you, and you have to decide what's making you concerned, what your questions are, if you're anxious.

And it's very common at the end of treatment for women to feel anxious and depressed; part of it is because you've adapted so well to taking care of yourself and doing all the things that you need to do, and now that life is moving on to the next step and you're trying to get beyond all of this and put it behind you, you kind of need to invent a new sense of normal. And so you want to see your doctors regularly over time to make sure that everything is ok, to get your questions answered.

If you're feeling anxious and you need reassurance, ask your doctor for reassurance; that's a perfectly fine thing to ask for. Over time your visits with your surgeon will be coordinated with your visits to the medical oncologists, to the radiation oncologist, as well as to the testing centers, so that there is continuity of your care.

Also another thing that is addressed in those follow-up visits is lingering side effects and how you feel -- if your energy is coming back, if your weight is now under control, what should you be eating, what should you be drinking -- to be as healthy as you can be. Ask all those questions. Many of you want to have tests scheduled at a regular interval, so that you can be reassured, and you can know, and get like a report card, of how you're doing. Coordinate that between the various doctors on your team, and make sure that each doctor on your team gets a report of those study results.

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But don't be surprised that life after breast cancer treatment can feel uncomfortable and a little uncertain, even though you thought it was going to be a time of celebration. That's very normal, and basically as you move on, you'll feel more and more like you. But all along the way through your recovery, make sure to limit your own expectations of yourself, as well as others' expectations of you. Because recovery takes a while. And you've got to give yourself room to recover, and you also have to give yourself credit for all the hard work that you went through in order to protect and cherish your life.

Next: How, when and why does breast cancer come back?

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