If a diagnosis of breast cancer has brought your world to a crashing halt,
you're not alone. "It's a time fraught with stress--you're
not only dealing with the implications of the diagnosis and what it means
for your future, but also all the decisions that must be made about your
treatment and the repercussions breast cancer will have on your family
life and work," says
Parveen Vora, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. "It requires great fortitude and you need to be in the best shape
possible--emotionally, physically and mentally--as you navigate life as
a breast cancer patient."
That's why self-care is so crucial as a source of sustenance and strength,
and should be considered an important part of breast cancer treatment.
Dr. Vora shares these self-care tips:
1. Don't stop moving.
Exercising may be the last thing on your mind, whether it's because
surgery or chemo has sapped your energy or you are feeling overwhelmed
or depressed after your diagnosis. But, notes Dr. Vora, “Movement
helps boost mood, relieve stress, improve fitness and clear the mind.”
And it's a good habit to start sooner rather than later, as the benefits
of exercise last well into remission--a recent study suggests it may help
ease the stress and fatigue that may be partially responsible for "chemo
brain," the memory problems reported by some breast cancer survivors
who have undergone chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
"Your exercise regimen doesn't need to be intense," Dr. Vora
says. "You can aim for 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity about
three times a week, but if you're not up for that because your body
is in pain due to treatment, start out with 10 minutes. Walking is terrific,
as well as cycling, jogging or swimming. It's important to consult
with your doctor about your exercise plan to make sure it doesn't
interfere with your recovery from any surgery or therapy."
2. Use food as fuel for your health.
A balanced diet works hand-in-hand with exercise to help you feel strong.
"As with any healthy diet, whole foods, produce and lean proteins
are the cornerstone," Dr. Vora says. Fat shouldn't make up more
than 20 percent of your daily calories, and you should cut back on processed
foods with their artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. Because
dehydration can keep the body from functioning properly, try to drink
64 to 80 ounces of water while limiting caffeine and alcohol.
3. Remember that knowledge is power.
"Staying informed about your health can alleviate anxiety when it
comes to treating your cancer," Dr. Vora says. "That means asking
questions of your physicians--get details about your type of cancer, the
pros and cons of treatments available to you, specific directions for
post-surgery care or what to expect during chemo and radiation. The more
you know, the more you won't fear the unknown, which helps emotionally
and mentally." Write down any questions you have before each doctor
appointment, and if you think you'll have a hard time remembering
all the particulars, bring a family member to the appointment who can
jot down notes for you and make sure you have clarity.
4. Build up your support network.
"A support network can take several different forms," Dr. Vora
says. "There are, of course, the family members and close friends
who will offer a listening ear, help with chores, dinner and a movie when
you need to get out of the house. And then there are breast cancer support
groups, where you can meet with other patients, share your story and learn
from their experiences. You can find these groups either though your local
hospital or via referral from your oncologist. Finally, you may want a
counselor, spiritual adviser or psychotherapist you can meet with one-on-one
and talk more deeply about your experiences.” Some research has
also indicated that talk therapy can help counter the possible 'chemo
brain' memory issues.
5. Prioritize what's important to you.
"This is a time when it's OK, and even necessary, to focus on
yourself and your needs," Dr. Vora says. "Investing time in
things that bring you joy--whether that's knitting, reading or walking
on the beach--will improve your outlook and bring positive energy to your
life, making it easier to combat negative thoughts and feelings. Conversely,
know what your triggers are for stress and negativity, and avoid them.
And don't feel guilty about making choices with your health in mind--if
that means taking a nap in the middle of the day, then do it."
6. Relax your body and mind.
Research has shown that mediation, deep breathing, visualization and other
stress-relief techniques can play a part in lessening worry and exhaustion
for breast cancer patients. "Because you are centering and focusing
on the here and now, it prevents you from spending precious time and energy
feeling anxious about the future or past," Dr. Vora says. "Your
doctor should be able to recommend some relaxation exercises, or you can
get ideas from a support group. A yoga class can also be helpful."
7. Get your zzzz's.
Adequate sleep is important for anyone, but especially for breast cancer
patients. "Unfortunately, there are some obstacles you may face to
getting a full night's sleep; chemotherapy and radiation can make
you more tired, and you may experience night sweats. Anxiety can also
keep you up at night," Dr. Vora says. Establish a bedtime routine
to ease the transition to bedtime, wear cool, comfortable night clothes
and avoid caffeine or alcohol late at night.
Learn more about
Dr. Vora. Learn more about
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group.