'Focus On' Macmillan in Dorset
This October for breast cancer awareness month, Melanie Whatley from Cerne Abbas is helping Macmillan to raise awareness of the side effects of living with and beyond the disease – one year on from her own diagnosis.
Melanie said after treatment was the hardest part; 'Everyone just expects you to bounce back after that, but you’re still healing both physically and mentally and some days you just cannot function and want to shut the world out. You get lots of twinges and things like that and are unsure if this is normal, but you don’t want to bother people, so you tend to keep it yourself and try to just get on with things.
'Whilst there are plenty of leaflets etc., that can give you guidance, there is nothing that makes up for speaking to a person who knows what you are going through and has experience the same emotions and fears. If you contact your breast cancer nurse, they may be able to help or put you in touch with a support group. Talking really does make a difference and having counselling has been a massive help. It helps you to re-set your mind frame.'
Caroline Macpherson, Macmillan Breast Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist at Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust says; 'With many more diagnosed with and surviving breast cancer, more and more people like Melanie are now living with the emotional and physical side effects of the disease and its treatment – some of which are not always expected or recognised.
'Most people have some side effects during and for a few weeks after treatment for breast cancer. Sometimes certain side effects may not go away. And, occasionally, people may develop side effects months, or even years, after treatment.
'These might include fatigue – this is probably the most common side effect of breast cancer treatment. It's a feeling of having no energy so it can be difficult to do even simple, everyday tasks. Lymphoedema – swelling in the arm – is a side effect that can occur during treatment or a long time afterwards.
'But it’s equally important to consider the emotional effects; people who’ve had treatment for primary breast cancer are often coping more with the psychological and emotional effects than physical ones. These effects can include worrying about whether the cancer might come back, dealing with changes in body image and general loss of confidence.'
Caroline concludes; 'The key message here is if you’re dealing with any of these side effects, you don’t have to face them alone. Talk to your GP, CNS or oncologist, go to your local Macmillan information and support centre, or look for support online. Whether it’s linking up with a support group, taking part in specialist physical activity, asking for a referral to a counsellor, or even just accessing information, there is plenty of help and support available which could make a positive difference to your quality of life.