How to Feel Good With Breast Cancer
Ho… ho… ho.
Happy holidays? Whether you’re in the throes of breast cancer treatment, battling lasting side effects, or simply haven’t yet recovered your verve for life, the holidays can be a challenging time.
Maybe you’re someone who loves the holidays, but is struggling right now. Or maybe you’ve always found them stressful: the unrelenting merriment of the retail industry, the round of parties, family obligations…
Down in the dumps? With Christmas and Chanukah right around the corner, here are some strategies for coping.
•Exercise. It’s a proven fact: exercise releases serotonin, the “feel-good hormone,” into your system. A brisk walk outdoors, even a short one, can help lighten your mood.
As you walk, pay attention to your breathing; listen to your breath go in and out. Concentrating on a single thing helps your mind take a rest from the cancer fears that crowd it 24/7.
After awhile, you may find yourself noticing little things that make you smile. A laughing baby in a stroller. Squirrels chasing one another. A teenage couple holding hands. Feel yourself relax.
This is normal life; you’ll get back to it soon.
•Compartmentalize. Similar to concentration on a single task, compartmentalizing can shove cancer out of your head for awhile – or at least move it into the dim background.
Face it: you’re going to be dealing with this cancer experience for a long time – maybe forever. You need to integrate it into your life: not in a starring role, but as one of the bit players.
If you find yourself worrying on and off all day, decide to think about cancer first thing in the morning, or last thing at night; the rest of the day, it’s not welcome. Worry is something you “allow” yourself to do; say no to useless worry, yes to positive thoughts and feelings.
•Here’s an easy one: do something fun. Just because you have cancer, you don’t have to mope around. Did you know that the physical act of smiling can make you feel better? It’s a fact. So, even if you don’t feel like it, go through the motions of “fun.”
Go shopping with friends, finding the dumbest gifts out there this season. Snuggle on the couch with your kids, a bowl of popcorn, and a silly DVD. Ignore the housework, and lose yourself in a chick novel. Do a good deed: bake cookies for your widowed neighbor, or help decorate the homeless shelter. Before long, you may find that the smile on your face is genuine.
•Be good to yourself. Ban the word “should” from your vocabulary this month, as in “I should decorate the house, I should bake Christmas cookies, I should get in the spirit.”
If you don’t want to go through the usual rituals – don’t. If there’s ever a time your family will understand, this is it.
One caveat: don’t replace the usual holiday routine with something negative, which can include lying around doing nothing, feeling sorry for yourself, or (worse yet) actively worrying: about your upcoming surgery, your chance of recurrence, or what people will think of your bald head.
I can’t stress this enough: worry is useless, and eviscerating. It doesn’t change anything; it just makes you feel bad. Don’t waste energy worrying; spend it on something that makes you feel good – whatever that happens to be.
•Choose your attitude. Have you noticed how sometimes a woman with the direst diagnosis seems much happier than one with a tiny, non-invasive tumor requiring minimal treatment? Circumstances themselves don’t make you happy or unhappy; it’s how you choose to react to them that darkens or brightens your life.
How can you “choose” to be happy about cancer? All kinds of ways. Look at it as a chance to stop and reassess your life; if you’ve been unhappy, consider this a crossroads: the classic “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Make changes that’ll bring you closer to the life you want.
Cancer can introduce you to a whole new group of friends – fellow survivors – and can bring out the best in your existing friends. You’ll experience knowledge, caring, and even love from your medical team.
Cancer gives you a chance to prove to yourself just how strong you are. Once you face down cancer, no twist or turn in life is beyond your ability to cope. You’re not a survivor; you’re a CONQUEROR – and will be, forever more.
Still not convinced you have something to be happy about? Check out our Top 10 Reasons to Be Glad You Have Breast Cancer.
•Finally, if you can’t seem to shake off the blues, no matter what you do, you may be suffering from depression. It’s natural to feel unhappy at times; even deeply sad. After all, you’ve been told you have a life-threatening illness; for perhaps the first time, death has knocked on your door.
Normal sadness comes and goes; some days you’re down, others you’re full of hope and energy, ready to take on the world. But depression is pervasive, and usually unending; there are no good days.
If this is how you feel, see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Depression isn’t weakness. It’s not something you can talk yourself out of. It’s a clinical condition that can often be treated with drugs.
Though it’s not a well-recognized side effect, tamoxifen can sink some women into depression. If you handled your treatment just fine, but find you’re really down in the dumps since going on tamoxifen, tell your oncologist; ask for help. S/he should be happy to direct you to a psychologist or psychiatrist. If not, ask for a second opinion.
And if ultimately you’re diagnosed with depression, visit our depression community; you’ll find lots of support there.
Happy holidays? You may have to work at it this year, but the next four weeks can be just as joyous as you make them.