A breast cancer diagnosis can change your life in a variety of ways. Here’s how to maintain your body and soul in harmony.
HR+/HER-2- breast cancer has a good prognosis if detected early. Even so, treatment can be lengthy and involved, and while you’re focused on navigating a world of complications, it’s easy to lose track of self-care that isn’t related to cancer.
Nonetheless, it is critical to make time to focus your total physical and emotional health and wellness – something that healthcare experts also highlight.
Practice Self-Care During HR+/HER-2- Breast Cancer Treatment 2023
“[While] a third of the work we do is helping people with breast cancer get through treatment, the rest is all about getting through life,” says Sarah Donahue, MPH, a nurse practitioner at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Breast Care Center who specializes in breast cancer care.
“A lot of people are surprised by how much they can do while they’re on treatment,” she says. “They can go to work, and if they have children, they should take good care of them.”
One place to begin is to request a referral to a social worker. “Ask us first if you don’t know who to ask and it’s not a medical question.” Chiara Leifer, LCSW, who works at the UCSF Breast Cancer Center, says, “If I’m not the right person, I’ll connect you to the right person.”
Practice Breath Work
“I see the greatest increase in anxiety between diagnosis and treatment beginning,” Leifer says. A technique known as box breathing can be beneficial during the process. It’s a simple strategy for fostering calm and reducing tension.
Box breathing can be done sitting up or lying down. Get comfy in any position and take a few deep breaths. Once you’re at ease, exhale completely and then proceed with these steps.
- Inhale slowly and fully to a slow count of four.
- Hold that breath for a count of four.
- Exhale slowly for a count of four, completely emptying your lungs.
- Hold for a count of four.
Repeat three or four times, until you feel centered and relaxed.
Nip Breakdowns in the Bud
Discuss your mood with your care team in an open and honest manner. “Do you cry a lot?” Are you resting? Are you more concerned than you were before? Is it interfering with your relationships?” Donahue inquires.
If you notice a troubling pattern, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants or antianxiety medication to assist you get through it, as well as refer you to a mental healthcare specialist. “Get a referral before you reach a crisis point,” Leifer advises. Practice Self-Care
“Because there can be waiting lists for getting mental health support,” adds Leifer, it’s especially vital to get help from a therapist or social worker as soon as possible.
Find the Right Support Group
“Support groups can be very therapeutic,” Leifer explains. You may discover that you can discuss parts of having breast cancer that only other survivors or people undergoing treatment can truly comprehend. “You hear other people who are going through the same things,” she says, “which makes it feel less isolating.” “You’re feeling validated.”
Many cancer centers have breast cancer support groups divided into subgroups, such as those for persons with metastatic disease, young people, and men. Look for a group that suits your specific requirements.
Begin by inquiring about potential support groups with a social worker at your cancer facility. Options can also be found online through organizations such as( Practice Self-Care ) the National Breast Cancer Foundation and Susan G. Komen.
In-person groups provide the advantage of seeing people in person who can personally relate to what you’re going through. However, virtual groups are an excellent choice if you live in a rural region or want to connect with a specific group of people who have had similar experiences with breast cancer.
Be skeptical of support groups that exist solely on social media platforms, cautions Leifer. You may receive incorrect, unhelpful, or even triggering advice or reactions. Try instead “finding a support group that has a professional facilitator,” she suggests.
If the thought of sharing your experiences with a bigger group isn’t for you, Leifer suggests finding individual relationships, such as visiting with a therapist. The American Cancer Society also offers a program called Reach to Recovery, which pairs breast cancer survivors with persons who are presently through treatment for one-on-one support.
Respect Your Desire
“I like to let patients know that it’s okay to be intimate while receiving cancer treatment.” “It’s safe,” Donahue says. Of course, you might not be in the mood because cancer treatment might make you tired, overwhelmed, or even sick, she says.
In addition, “Vaginal dryness and lower libido are common side effects of hormone therapy,” explains Donahue. “If you’ve had surgery, it will change your breasts,” she adds, “so feeling comfortable in your body is also something to manage.”
While it may feel taboo to discuss it, don’t be scared to speak up, advises Leifer. Discussing these symptoms with your care team can help you come up with solutions to these problems. Over-the-counter treatments and lubricants, for example, can alleviate dryness; dilators can alleviate vaginal atrophy; and prescription drugs can increase libido.
Of course, the path to sexual healing includes not just medical care, but also expressing feelings. This includes your support group, where you may meet other ladies going through similar challenges – and possibly discovering solutions. It also implies, and most importantly, sharing with your loving partner.
“Roles may change,” Leifer says. “No one prepares for cancer. Accepting that your [partner] now needs to be a carer might be difficult. You might not want to ask for assistance.”
Relationships are bidirectional. “[Practice Self-Care] just want you to be okay, and they may feel guilty for not spending all of their time and effort on you,” Leifer adds. “However, if they’re exhausted, they won’t be able to help you.” Let them know it’s okay — even important — for them to look after themselves.” Building reciprocal trust might help you overcome any barriers to intimacy.
Move Your Body
Exercise may be the last thing on your mind, but it “can help with energy, mood, joint pain, and other side effects,” according to Donahue. According to a study, women who exercise consistently before, during, and after treatment are less likely to have a recurrence of breast cancer.
Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio five times per week and 20 to 30 minutes of resistance exercise (weight lifting, yoga, Pilates) twice per week. “There is evidence that for women taking aromatase inhibitors, [Practice Self-Care], resistance training reduces side effects such as joint pain,” Donahue says. “Do your full exercise routine on days when you feel well enough.” A brief, low-key walk is fine when you’re fatigued.”
Grounding is a technique for dealing with bad emotions or stressful events. According to Leifer, one technique to develop grounding is to observe your surroundings and identify:
- Five things you can see
- Four things you can hear
- Three things you can touch
- Two things you can smell
- One thing you can taste
“Use this technique when your mind is running away with itself with anxious thoughts,” she advises. “It will help you get back on track when you’re distracted.”
Find Your Own Path
“Patients tell me about various integrative medicine or complementary medicine strategies that they found useful, and I’m generally really excited about anything they can do to support mind and body,” Donahue says. “It could be aromatherapy, acupuncture, or massage.”
She thinks that at the end of the day, it’s all about doing what you can to feel your best.