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10 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself If You Have Breast Cancer

Self-Care For Survivors

By

Updated April 03, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Being in breast cancer treatment is like having a job – it takes time and commitment. While your healthcare team is doing their job to attack your cancer cells, you are responsible for taking care of yourself. Boost your health and speed your recovery by changing some of your habits. Stop doing these 10 things, and replace them with healthy self-care. After treatment ends, you can take most of these attitudes and proactive practices with you into life after breast cancer.

1. Stop Blaming Yourself for Getting Breast Cancer

Worry and Sad
Photo © Fotolia
Playing the blame game is a fine way to waste your time and energy. There are many things you can't control about your risk: genetics, age, and environmental toxins. Instead of looking back at your life before diagnosis, move forward. Plan on making your body, mind, and spirit healthier -- starting right now. Educate yourself about your risk factors and learn how to make smart lifestyle changes. Focus on your future and acknowledge that you can't change the past.

2. Stop Eating Junk Food and Fast Food

Bratwurst in curry sauce
Photo © iStockphoto
Every cell in your body is influenced by what you eat. You need fuel and hydration to keep your systems in good running order. If you picture your body as a refinery, taking in fluids and solids, processing and distributing those and then producing health, you can influence how that picture looks. If you are loading the refinery with unhealthy fats, empty calories, and bad cholesterols, then the system gets clogged, pipes back up, and pools of waste products build up. So instead of putting gunk in the pipes, fuel up with a balanced diet.

3. Stop Being Super Woman

Super pink logo small
Art © Pam Stephan
Before you were diagnosed you were already busy – now you have a new job, and it is fighting breast cancer. Trust me, you can’t keep doing everything that you did before starting treatment all by yourself. It takes a village -- or at least a support team – to navigate treatment as smoothly as possible. Call in all your favors and cut yourself some slack. And remember: There’s a good reason that Super Woman exists only in the funny pages.

4. Stop Sabotaging Your Recovery

Being diagnosed with breast cancer is a shock that may cause you to look over your life and consider how you are treating your body. Are you standing in the way of your own recovery? Then this is a good time to make healthy changes.
  • Quit smoking - it delays healing from surgery, raises the risk of breast cancer traveling to your lungs, and soaks your cells in carcinogens. Get professional help to quit smoking.
  • Give up alcohol - drinking raises your risk of estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, alcohol acts on your tissues like estrogen, and may be linked to recurrence.
  • Stop overeating - estrogen, which fuels 80% of all breast tumors, is stored in fatty tissue. When you pile on the calories and load up on extra pounds, you increase your risk for cancers, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

5. Stop Being a Lone Ranger

Woman Alone on Sand Dune
Photo © Hans Vink, Flickr
Even though we live in a highly connected society -- texting, posting, and blogging -- we may feel alone and isolated by a diagnosis of breast cancer. You may temporarily lose friends and family members may not know how to help you. A great way to break out of your box is to meet other survivors in person. Ask your surgeon, oncologist, or nurse if they can recommend a breast cancer support group in your area. Some groups specialize in support for young women, newly diagnosed patients, and metastatic patients. Talking to and learning from experienced people can really encourage and educate you, and often lowers your anxiety.

6. Stop Living as a Couch Potato

Couch Potato
Photo © Microsoft
If your couch has a permanent dent in it that matches the shape of your body, or if you live in a recliner near the TV once you come home, then you're past due for a change. Being sedentary may increase your risk for several kinds of cancer, which gives you a new view of the old proverb about "use it or lose it." While I do understand that during treatment you may be dealing with fatigue, nausea, and other debilitating side effects, doing some gentle exercises can help relieve some of those symptoms as well as improve your circulation. And, of course, the more exercise you can do, the lower your risk of recurrence may be.

7. Stop Negative Comments and Self-Talk

Gossip and Rumors
Photo © Fotolia
After being diagnosed, losing all or part of a breast, having your hair fall out and your energy plummet, the last thing you need is a thoughtless person making an insensitive remark. You are trying to get your health back and that includes your mental and emotional health. At times like this your own attitude may sink and people around you may start telling horror stories of Dear Aunt Suzie who died just last month of breast cancer. Take heart - you are not required to be a bulls-eye for snarky remarks or abrasive comments. When you are living through treatment, you have the right to aim back at the offender with snappy comebacks. I have thoughtfully provided some arrows for your quiver, so help yourself!

8. Stop Acting Passive and Uninvolved About Your Treatment

My mother’s generation just followed doctor’s orders because after all, the docs had been to med school and they must know what’s best. My generation grew up on bumper stickers that said, “Question Authority!” I started out in shock during treatment because the diagnosis was so unexpected, but when I recovered my wits I started asking lots of questions. It turns out that this is a good, healthy, and self-protective thing to do. It’s called being an empowered patient and it can save you money, pain, and mistakes. Participate in your own health care and be your own best advocate.

9. Stop Enduring Side Effects In Silence

You've heard the horror stories and read the lists of all the side effects you may get from breast cancer treatments. However, you don't always have to suffer your way through radiation and chemo. Your surgeon and his staff can advise you on healing and scar care. If you're planning on radiation treatments, ask your radiation oncology team how to prepare for each session and how to care for yourself afterward. For those of you who need chemotherapy, there are effective pretreatments and post-infusion drugs to prevent or rescue you from the most common side effects. No matter what you are going through, do not suffer without reporting your symptoms to your doctors and nurses. Get the tools and wisdom that make your journey easier.

10. Stop Letting Your Diagnosis Define You

Pink Ribbon
Chad Baker / Getty Images
How do you define yourself and how do others define their picture of you? Have you let your diagnosis take over your self-conception? I was tempted to do that when I was newly diagnosed, then I realized that was the same person that I had been before cancer! Treatment was just going to be a new job I was taking on. As Shelley Lewis wrote, "breast cancer didn't change who I was." You don't have to start wearing pink and as Laura Olsen wrote, the pink ribbon doesn't define you, either! Instead of thinking of yourself as a cancer patient, try on "Survivor" and live your life with your gaze set on life after breast cancer.
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