Jessica Cudlin, 25, outside of her apartment in Dublin, Ohio, September 4, 2012

Jessica Cudlin, 25, outside of her apartment in Dublin, Ohio, September 4, 2012 (Matt Sullivan, Chicago Tribune)

"I don't consider myself vain, but I didn't want to lose my breasts," said Jessica Cudlin, 25, of Dublin, Ohio, who had a lumpectomy in July to treat Stage 1 breast cancer. "Every time I see that healing scar it reminds me that life is too short and anything can be thrown at you."

For most women, sex drive declines when chemo begins — one study showed the frequency of intercourse dropped from once a week to one to two times per month. There is usually no return to pre-cancer levels, Salani said.

As a young survivor, Cudlin worries about dating. "I don't quite know the protocol in divulging this information — how soon do I share, how will he respond, will I have the urge to want to be close to someone again? It's something a 25-year-old woman shouldn't have to worry about."

Get help: Nutrition counseling and exercise can help with weight loss, which can improve mood and self-esteem. Look for registered dietitians who specialize in oncology, said Seattle-based registered dietitian Andy Bellatti. They should promote "a whole foods strategy, rather than a take-this-canned-supplement approach," he said.

Mood swings and irritability can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy or mind-body techniques, including yoga. Therapists can also be important when mood or sexual difficulties are coupled with marital distress.

A gynecologist can help manage symptoms related to vaginal health and remind patients that it takes upward of two years to start feeling more like your old self again. The American Cancer Society publishes a booklet titled "Sexuality and Cancer."


Walson, of Melrose, Mass., was 33 when diagnosed in 2008. After a double mastectomy, hysterectomy and other related operations, four months of chemo and 37 radiation treatments, she sought out a range of experts and support groups to help with healing.

To get mobility back into her "T. rex" arms, Walson worked with a physical therapist. "I was extremely exhausted from the chemos, surgery and radiation, dealing with anger that I had to go through this — and everyone else around me didn't," said Walson, who worked with a therapist to help combat frustration. She also attended a six-week class for survivors at Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Each week the class covered a different topic, ranging from nutrition to sex.

But what may have helped most was surrounding herself with others who "got it" and starting the survivor's group Walson went on a weekend fly fishing retreat with Casting for Recovery ( and went surfing with First Descents, ( "Three years after the end of my treatment, I still got so much out of this trip."

After her breast cancer treatment, Crystal Brown Tatum wanted to connect with other young, African-American women. She reached out to the Sister's Network Inc. ( and then started a chapter serving northwest Louisiana. "I wanted to know specifically how chemo would affect my hair and skin," said Brown Tatum, who was diagnosed in 2007 when she was 35. "I also needed someone to help me understand my pathology report as well as needed financial assistance."

Get help: Talk to a therapist about how to reconnect with others, in particular other survivors. Look for networks that match your interests or offer something you want to learn. "Find a bunch of fun women who have been through it," Walson said. "Not all support groups sit in a circle and cry."

Some other resources to consider: Imerman Angels (; Journey Forward's Survivorship Library (; and the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (

60 percent: At least this percentage of breast cancer survivors report at least one treatment- related complication even six years after their diagnosis, according to a study in the journal Cancer.