Sometimes the things that are the hardest to talk about are the most important conversations for us to have. Unsurprisingly, cancer is one of those often-avoided topics. Discussions about cancer can be uncomfortable, unsettling, or sad. However, sharing information, offering support, and promoting community make these conversations invaluable.
We are all about empowering women, and we believe that there’s strength in awareness. That’s why this October, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we want to talk about the hard stuff. Whether you know someone battling breast cancer or are facing it yourself, there are a lot of questions surrounding breast cancer’s effects on reproductive health.
We’ve compiled a list of five things you should know during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Treating our bodies with love is so important, but we can only truly do that if we understand how it works and what it is telling us.
Paying attention to your period’s cycle can inform you about other aspects of your health.
Menstruation is something to be proud of — it’s symbolic of all that your body is capable of. Your period is an indicator of your body’s health, and its ability to create life. Women are fiercely powerful, even while bleeding.
It’s important to listen to your body, and to notice symptoms or patterns which are abnormal for you. Period tracking apps are an excellent resource to note your observations, and can certainly come in handy when your mind draws a blank in the doctor’s office. If your cycle is especially-disrupted or your symptoms are unusually-severe, it’s important to visit your gynecologist in the near future to talk about your concerns and complete appropriate testing.
Believe it or not, significant changes in your period cycle may be an indicator of a greater underlying issue, such as breast cancer. Studies show that characteristics of your period, such as when you first began menstruating and when you began menopause, can be used to determine your risk for breast cancer. This is because these milestones indicate how many cycles you have experienced. Likewise, and interestingly enough, longer periods may indicate less risk of breast cancer.
It is important to openly share the common characteristics of your period with your doctor, so that if there are any changes or atypical cycles, they can be quickly identified and looked into.
Depending on your age, chemotherapy can affect your period and fertility.
Many breast cancer patients undergo chemotherapy for treatment. As chemotherapy works to kill cancer cells, it can also kill other types of cells. Chemotherapy is commonly-known to result in symptoms such as hair loss and fatigue, but it can also affect your period and fertility. Chemotherapy may result in irregular periods, no periods, or sub-fertility; these changes may be temporary, but they can also be permanent.
The effects of chemotherapy on menstruation and fertility is especially true for older women, whose fertility is typically weaker. Gynecologist Dr. Shree Datta elaborates on this pattern with significant data: periods stop for 20%-70% of women with breast cancer. However, the rate is closer to 5% for women under 30, and is up to 50% for women aged 36-40. In addition to being at lower-risk of stopped periods, younger women are also more likely to begin menstruating again after undergoing chemotherapy.
A person can still experience menstruation — and become pregnant! — while battling breast cancer.
One common misconception about breast cancer is the extent to which the illness and its treatments affect fertility. Although there are strong links between chemotherapy and fertility, it’s important to remember that patterns are not rules, and that a woman with breast cancer can still menstruate and therefore might be fertile.
If you or someone you love is battling breast cancer, it’s important to talk about sex and pregnancy. Gynecologists typically recommend that breast cancer patients wait until two years after ending chemotherapy treatments to begin trying to become pregnant. In the meantime, patients should look into their options for contraceptives, such as condoms or a diaphragm.
Conversely, it is important to remember that there is still a possibility for breast cancer patients to grow their families in the future. Sometimes a diagnosis can feel like an end to all of the patient’s life goals, when in fact there is still plenty of likelihood that their goals will still be achieved.
When it comes to talking about what breast cancer might mean for family life, approach these conversations carefully, keeping empathy and openness as the forefront values. Listen to what the patient wants, explore options together, and instill hope in achieving their future aspirations.
Mindful practices can improve physical and mental health, helping your body to fight the hard fight.
It’s easy to feel helpless when a loved one is diagnosed with breast cancer, but you don’t have to feel that way. Daily practices and healthy routines can enhance both physical and mental health, which ultimately makes the body more capable of battling the disease and handling the symptoms.
Of course, maintaining physical health is invaluable when fighting breast cancer. It is important that eating healthily, exercising routinely, and getting enough sleep are prioritized during this time. While there are some things that may feel out of our control, it’s important to do what we can to strengthen the body. Consider working with a dietician to see if there are any changes to your nutritional needs while undergoing treatment.
Patients and caregivers alike should also pay close attention to their mental health, and engage in practices which relieve stress and provide comfort. Groups for patients and caregivers are excellent resources in that they provide knowledge as well as emotional support from people who understand what you’re going through.
You’re not alone!
Unfortunately, breast cancer is a fairly-common diagnosis. That also means that there are many women, families, and loved ones who have had similar experiences to yours, and can offer guidance and support along the way. Our modern world makes communication easier than ever— search for local support groups to continually learn, share, and find comfort through this hard time.
When looking for information about serious topics like breast cancer, chemotherapy, and menstruation, it’s important to depend on sources you can trust. INTIMINA is a woman-centric company that not only embraces, but encourages, open conversations about uncomfortable topics. They’ve stripped away the taboo surrounding periods and reproductive health so that women can embrace their experiences with knowledge and confidence. If you’re looking for female-positivity, INTIMINA’s blog offers research, encouragement, and authentic stories that make the tough stuff feel a little bit easier.
Spread the Love
Whether you or someone you love is battling breast cancer, or even if you’re just trying to enhance your awareness of its effects, pass the love onward through conversation. Sharing resources, promoting awareness, and offering support are simply ways that anyone can help to relieve some of the stress associated with breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, make a pact to spread the love by spreading the word.