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Quality of Life FAQs

Updated April 12, 2010

All the women in my support group have early-stage breast cancer. I feel like nobody wants to hear from me because metastatic breast cancer is so scary. I want to talk to women who are like me.

What can I do about managing pain that is interfering with my ability to enjoy my normal daily activities?

Everyone keeps talking about making the right treatment choices for metastatic breast cancer. I keep worrying about how I’m going to pay for all of this because I don’t have health insurance.

I’m thinking about trying some complementary treatments. How can I find the ones that really work?

I find sex is no longer pleasurable. Is there anything I can do to improve my sex life?

Q: All the women in my support group have early-stage breast cancer. I feel like nobody wants to hear from me because metastatic breast cancer is so scary. I want to talk to women who are like me.

A: Many women with metastatic breast cancer report having mixed or negative experiences in support groups for women with breast cancer, because the other participants are not facing the same types of issues. This does not necessarily mean that a support group is wrong for you. It just means you need to find one that will give you the type of support you’re seeking.

Some hospitals and cancer centers have support groups specifically for people living with advanced breast cancer. There is also one-on-one support available. Some may be covered by insurance, and others may be free of charge. Ask your doctors and nurses to identify these resources in your area. If there is no support group you can attend in person, there are some excellent hotlines and online support options that can match you with women in similar circumstances:

  • The LBBC Helpline (888) 753-LBBC (5222) is staffed by trained volunteers affected by breast cancer and can match you with women in circumstances similar to yours.
  • Breast Cancer Network of Strength's 24/7 Hotline (800) 221-2141 is staffed by trained women, and you can request to be paired with a peer counselor who had the same diagnosis, is the same age, or has experienced similar challenges as you.
  • Bcmets.org is a website devoted entirely to women with metastatic disease and offers listservs, where you can sign up for free to share information and support.

Reviewed by Evelyn Robles Rodriguez, RN, MSN

Q: What can I do about managing pain that is interfering with my ability to enjoy my normal daily activities?

A: There are many effective ways to manage pain. Work with your healthcare team to create a plan. You might want to keep a pain diary to help you communicate your pain control needs with your doctor and nurse.

For many women, it helps to have several different approaches to managing pain. Persistent pain and breakthrough pain are treated differently. Oral medicines, both long-acting and short-acting types, can be helpful and are available to address the different types of cancer-related pain you may have. Medicines are also available by suppository, injections and skin patches, sometimes called transdermal patches. In some cases, a patient-controlled pump delivering medicine can be helpful.

Other types of treatments relieve pain, including radiation therapy, acupuncture, biofeedback or relaxation techniques and nerve blocks. Bone-building medicines called bisphosphonates can help if your pain is caused by bone metastasis.

If pain medicines and other approaches are not working well for you, ask your doctor for a referral to a specialist in pain management or a specialized pain clinic.

Reviewed by Elyse Spatz Caplan, MA

Q: Everyone keeps talking about making the right treatment choices for metastatic breast cancer. I keep worrying about how I’m going to pay for all of this because I don’t have health insurance.

A: Facing financial issues when you’re trying to deal with metastatic breast cancer can feel overwhelming. You want to conserve your energy to deal with the disease, but you can’t help worrying about whether you’ll be able to afford all the medicines and treatments.

There are government agencies and private organizations out there that can help. But you do need to reach out and ask for the help you need.

Find a list of these organizations and get tips on managing the visible and hidden costs of breast cancer treatment by ordering a copy of LBBC’s Guide to Understanding Financial Concerns.

If you participate in a clinical trial, you may be eligible to have some or all of your costs paid for. Ask your healthcare team if you are eligible for any clinical trials that cover the cost of your care.

Reviewed by Dianne L. Hyman, BSN, RN, OCN

Q: I’m thinking about trying some complementary treatments. How can I find the ones that really work?

A: Many people living with metastatic breast cancer find complementary approaches—including yoga, meditation, acupuncture, tai chi, and more—helpful for lowering stress and alleviating some symptoms and treatment side effects.

As with all types of treatment, what works for one person might not work for others. Trying a few different approaches might be the way to find what’s best for you.

Whatever you decide to try, remember to talk to your healthcare team about what types of complementary treatment you are considering. Even if you are taking an over-the-counter vitamin or supplement, it’s extremely important to tell your doctor. There are some herbs and supplements that can interfere with the effectiveness of some breast cancer treatments.

For reliable information on complementary and alternative treatments, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Reviewed by Elyse Spatz Caplan, MA

Q: I find sex is no longer pleasurable. Is there anything I can do to improve my sex life?

A: Hormonal treatments that limit your body’s level of estrogen can cause vaginal dryness and can lower your sex drive. Lubricants can help relieve dryness and make vaginal intercourse more pleasurable. In some cases, your doctor might feel comfortable prescribing a vaginal cream with estrogen if your symptoms are severe and other methods have not been effective.

More importantly, talk to your partner about how you’re feeling, and work together on how to deal with times when you are not in the mood for sex. Some tips are:

  • Try setting aside special time with your partner to pursue activities that create a sensual mood and might make you more responsive to sex.
  • There are other ways you and your partner can be intimate besides having intercourse. Sometimes you may just need to cuddle, and it’s important to let your partner know. Communication is the key to a more satisfying intimate relationship.

Reviewed by Elyse Spatz Caplan, MA

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