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Listening to Your Body for Signs of Recurrence

The Real Pink Podcast With Carol Smith

If you’re like most people diagnosed with stages 0-3 breast cancer, you fear that your breast cancer will come back, or recur. This can happen either in the breast that had your original cancer, or metastasize, meaning the breast cancer spreads to another part of your body.

Every ache and pain brings up the thought: “Is my cancer back?” This concern is normal, and the longer it has been since your original diagnosis, the less often you may feel this way. As someone who was originally diagnosed stage 1 and is now metastatic (also known as stage 4), my experiences may help you determine what your next steps should be when you have that ache or pain.

Most people with early-stage breast cancer will not have a recurrence. Therefore, the first thing to assume is that whatever the ache is, it’s not cancer, and treat it as if it is not. If you sprain your ankle falling of a curb, that most likely did not happen because of cancer. So, treat the sprained ankle as you otherwise would. Similarly, if your back hurts after working all day in the yard or playing sports with your family, you probably overdid it. Take care of yourself and you should be back to normal soon. But if you don’t feel better after a couple of weeks, definitely talk to your medical team about your concerns.

My oncologist told me that breast cancer most often spreads to the bones, liver, lungs, and brain. So, if normal treatment for your pain doesn’t work, go to your oncologist to be examined for metastasis and insist upon tests to see what could be going on. Some warning signs include:

  • Falling, especially falling more than once in a short period of time.
  • Headaches that don’t get better with your usual headache treatments.
  • Pain in your liver area.
  • Pain in your right shoulder that doesn’t go away can also indicate an issue with your liver.
  • A cough or trouble breathing that doesn’t get better with normal treatment.
  • Muscle pain that doesn’t get better in a reasonable amount of time – like a pulled muscle that doesn’t improve in a couple of weeks.
  • Pain in your bones that doesn’t seem right.
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss can indicate active cancer.

In my case, I felt “off.” It was hard to explain, but something just didn’t seem right. Also, my back hurt. I thought I had pulled a muscle, but it turned out the breast cancer had metastasized to my spine. One of the tumors was pressing on my spinal cord. I had surgery to remove the tumor and my pain stopped almost immediately.

Fear of recurrence is normal, but if you can first think that your situation isn’t related to your breast cancer and treat it accordingly, nearly all of the time you’ll be fine. If usual treatment doesn’t work, then insist on getting tests to understand what is going on and get the information you need to continue living.

The Real Pink Podcast With Carol Smith