An open letter to a breast cancer survivor

Dear breast cancer survivor,

Dear breast cancer survivor,

I hope you can give me a few minutes of your precious time. I am a physician specializing in Hematology and Medical Oncology. Every day, I meet several like you. Today, let’s assume we have 2 hours to sit together and just chat. Think of a lovely Saturday morning in May or June. We might sit at Starbucks, at a table outside facing Pikes Peak in the far west. Let’s imagine 70F weather, a gentle breeze and pure serenity. I would get a chai latte, and perhaps you like coffee or tea. I would talk to you like I might talk to my mother or sister or a good friend.

You belong to a large and fast growing community. You fall among the 41% or so, of all 14 million cancer survivors in the USA. You are a mother, wife, sister, and/or daughter. You may even be a father, husband, son, or brother. You are going through cancer treatments, or may be you are finished. You have stage I, II, III, or IV breast cancer. You may be within a year of diagnosis, or more than 5 years out.

You became a cancer survivor the day you were first diagnosed with cancer.

Thanks to thousands like you, we have made great progress in treating breast cancer. More and more people will be cured. An increasing number will have long and productive lives even with incurable stage IV breast cancer. Your audacity, courage, and prominence has made it easier to talk about cancer, in fact has helped to demystify cancer.

You may wonder about your chances. Well, I hope you will be encouraged to hear that statistics are in your favor. If you have stage I – III breast cancer, you have a good chance of being cured. If you like numbers, click here and check out survival statistics. If you don’t like numbers, that’s okay too. Remember to pay attention to your health. Other things like diabetes and high blood pressure do matter. You want to see your regular doctor for follow up. Get your mammograms and colonoscopies. Take your medications. Make sure to have your blood counts checked every year if you received chemotherapy.

If you are on an estrogen blocking pill, remember to tell your oncologist if you start other new medications since there can be interactions. Remember sensible dieting and exercise to maintain a healthy weight. This will help you prevent other diseases, and also helps reduce your risk of breast cancer growing back. Also, side effects from some estrogen blocking medications may be less with an active lifestyle.

Do you have a summary of your cancer treatments? This is a very important thing to have. Ask your oncologist and make sure to send a copy to your family doctor. Although you’ll probably be okay, there are rare complications that can happen due to past treatments. It is good to have such a document to refer to in future, if the need arises.

When you are strong and happy, your friends and family thrive.

Are you paying attention to your mental health? How about sexuality? Are you having problems coping at work? Maybe mental fogginess, joint aches, or fatigue? Please speak to your doctor and get some help. Do not suffer in silence and no, these problems are not in your head. They are very real problems that can last a long time after cancer treatments. There are also possible remedies and solutions that can help.

Very often I find many like you expressing gratitude to your cancer team. On my part, I want to say thanks to you, for your strength, your resilience, and your courage. Thank you for making us want to do better and better, every single day. Thank you for the family news you share with us – new children or grandchildren born, new jobs, strong relationships. It’s always great to hear that you are happy and doing well.

All my best,

Erica OncMD

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I will gladly consider guest contributors writing about any of the above. It might be a person wanting to share their cancer journey, a working parent, or another book lover like me! I’d like to hear from you so please get in touch. Feel free to review my blog, and share among your friends. Click on the the social media icons to follow me on Facebook and Twitter.