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Top 10 Self-Care Tips During Breast Cancer Treatment

Body, Mind, Soul, and Spirit

By

Updated September 28, 2007

Don't let yourself be defined by breast cancer -- once you become a patient, it can be easy to get caught up in treatment and emotions. But you are a survivor -- so take good care of all aspects of your health, gather your posse, and head into a healthier future. Here are some tips to help you with self-care.

1. Healthy Diet and Hydration

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Food and drink can be part of your arsenal during treatment - they can help alleviate side effects as well as build up your strength and stamina. Try eating plant proteins (mushrooms, legumes, beans) which are easier to digest than meats. If you eat meat, avoid processed meats with nitrates. To help maintain or regain weight, add milk, cheese, and eggs to your diet, or use sauces and gravies that have some fat content. Since treatment can be very drying, drink 8 eight-ounce glasses of water daily; cut down on or avoid caffeine, and swear off alcohol. When constipation is a problem, blend some smoothies using frozen strawberries, blueberries, and yogurt. Gelatin and puddings can also be easy to digest.

2. Ask For Help

Hang up your Superwoman suit, because you may not have the energy or stamina to get through treatment alone. You can authorize someone else to pick up your medications at the pharmacy, and ask for help with cooking meals, picking up groceries, and cleaning house. It's okay to ask for medications to help alleviate side effects, and if you have health insurance, ask if the additional medications are covered. At your clinic, ask about Road to Recovery, if you need a ride to or from treatments. Your clinic may also be able to help you find home healthcare and financial assistance in your local community.

3. Exercise Your Body

Gentle exercise during treatment, such as regular walks, can help you avoid anemia by increasing your oxygen capacity and supporting your red blood cell count. After treatment is completed, increasing your exercise gradually will help erase your fatigue and rebuild muscle tone. Getting your circulation going may also help with chemobrain, and it can certainly improve your mood and your outlook on life. Try yoga, tai chi, swimming or water aerobics.

4. Getting Away from It All

Treatment for breast cancer is given in cycles, so you can plan on having a break at regular intervals. Use those times to refresh your spirits by taking a mini-vacation, such as a weekend at a retreat center, or a trip to a nearby beauty spot, art museum, or concert. Having a planned treat will give you something to look forward to when you're recovering from a recent treatment. Do some light gardening (always use gloves to prevent infections and cuts) and enjoy the results, or visit a botanical garden for a restful stroll. Use humor to help you focus away from side effects -- funny movies, humorous books, a meal with positive, caring people.

5. Get Spiritual Help

You are more than a body with a problem -- you have feelings, thoughts and a spirit. If you belong to a faith group, do ask for prayers, positive energy, encouraging phone calls or visits, or a pastoral visit when you can't get out. Make your own prayers, or borrow the prayers written by others. Keep a prayer and thankfulness journal, so you can see your own progress. Take a class to learn about meditation or guided imagery, which are good ways to lower stress, relax, and improve sleep.

6. Express Yourself

Here's what you can do with the cavalcade of emotions that come with diagnosis and treatment -- instead of letting them control you, get them out so you can deal with them! Talk out or write out your feelings -- get a purse-sized spiral notebook and jot down the date and whatever you're feeling at the time. Many times, this will help you clarify your emotions and thoughts, giving you some relief. Are you creative? Draw or paint or sculpt a project that expresses your experience, or your hopes. Taking photographs can also be a form of meditation as well as being documentary, making a visual record you can look back on. Play or compose music to soothe or release your emotions, or put on some tunes to help you relax.

7. Pick Your Battles Carefully

Going through the cancer journey takes lots of energy, and if you're working, raising a family, or pursuing a dream, you already have quite a few challenges. Set some priorities for yourself, and put survival near the top. Breast cancer treatment can consume as many hours as a part-time job, so decide where to put your energy when it comes to disagreements with co-workers, keeping house perfectly, or becoming famous in your field. Your job is to successfully complete treatment and survive. Let this experience help you focus on the important things in life. Don't waste time on negative thoughts or discouraging people.

8. Take Care of Your Skin and Hair

Treatment can be very drying to your skin, so take extra good care of it. When bathing, use moisturizing soap, and blot your skin gently with towels (don't rub). Give your skin a treat with moisturizers, especially on your face, before applying makeup foundation. Use extra protection from the sun. If you still have hair, use mild shampoo, and if your hair is coming back in, try using shampoos made for damaged hair. Sign up for a hands-on session with your local Look Good Feel Better program to learn great tips about wigs, hair care and makeup.

9. Gather Your Posse -- Get Support

You don't have to go through treatment alone – you can ask family, friends, coworkers, professionals, healthcare team, survivors, and other patients for support. People often wonder how they can help, so let them bring a meal or do your laundry when you're fatigued. Coworkers can help by driving you to the clinic, or taking notes during a meeting you miss, or by listening when you're having a bad day. Don't forget to ask your healthcare team for assistance – nurses are an especially good resource for ways to feel better. Find a survivor that had a diagnosis similar to yours and ask them to mentor you. Meet with a support group of other patients who can encourage and help educate you. You may be surprised at how many people do care.

10. Keep Records, Be Educated, Ask Lots of Questions

Take control of as much as you can during treatment, understand as much as you can. Ask for copies of your test results, and keep a notebook of all of them. Save receipts from your clinic and hospital visits. If you ever need a second opinion, or have to challenge your health insurance, they will be priceless! Make informed decisions; learn as much as you can about your diagnosis and treatment. Ask every question that comes to your mind, and keep notes of (or tape record) the answers.

11. Sources

Tip 1. National Cancer Institute. Eating Hints for Cancer Patients: Before, During, and After Treatment. Nutrition Recommendations. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/eatinghints/page2

Tip 2. American Cancer Society. Press Room. Exercise Helps Breast Cancer Patients Avoid Anemia. Last Updated: 10/9/2006. http://www.cancer.org/docroot/MED/content/MED_2_1x_Exercise_Helps_Breast_Cancer_Patients_Avoid_Anemia.asp

Tip 6. American Cancer Society. Music Therapy http://www.cancer.org/docroot/ETO/content/ETO_5_3X_Music_Therapy.asp?sitearea=ETO

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