New Year's Resolutions Despite Breast Cancer

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • It’s that time of year again… the end!

    Time for New Year’s resolutions – including what SHOULD be everyone’s #1:

    I resolve to at least TRY to keep the resolutions I make!

    What’s your top personal goal for 2011? Rebuilding your life? Learning how to dance? Or simply staying alive?

    Here are ten strategies for moving through and beyond breast cancer this year.

    1) Pick any doorway in your house. Step through it. You’ve now moved out of the “cancer room,” and into the rest of your life. Sounds silly, but this kind of stark physical symbolism might be just what you need to change your mindset from “cancer patient” to “on the mend.”

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    2) Try something new, something you’ve always wanted to do. Get “made up” by a professional? Learn to water ski? Climb a high mountain?


    Take that “I wish I could…” in the back of your mind, and act on it.

    For me, it was playing the piano. I love music, and wanted to be able to sit down at the piano and play. So many people make it look so easy… Once I’d finished radiation, I signed up for piano lessons.

    3) Give yourself permission to fail.


    Five years of piano lessons later, I was barely past square one. Every note was a struggle. I finally admitted I had absolutely no talent whatsoever for piano-playing.

    In the past, I might have berated myself for my inability; called myself a quitter. No more. I stopped playing the piano, and felt a huge sense of relief. So what if I have no musical ability? That’s what talented musicians and CDs are for.

    4) Find some type of exercise you like, and stick with it. Pre-cancer, maybe you ran 50 miles a week training for marathons – and loved it. Now, you can’t even imagine walking 5 miles.

    Don’t be discouraged. You may or may not ever work yourself back to the level you’d reached before cancer. But if you loved running before, start running again. Let your body tell you how far and fast to go. It’s no shame to find a new comfort level.

    If you’ve always been a couch potato, now’s the time to start exercising. Exercise lowers the recurrence rate of hormone-responsive breast cancer (about 75% of all breast cancers) by helping control your weight, which in turn lowers estrogen levels.

    Even if you have triple negative cancer, exercise releases serotonin, the “feel good hormone,” into your bloodstream. Anything that makes your heart pump and your breath quicken will also clear your head and lighten your heart, once you’re finished. Go for it.

    5) “Get back to normal” – your NEW normal. While you were in active treatment, it was great having so much help from your church, friends, family, and work colleagues. Now that the casseroles and free yard work have ended, you need to pick up where you left off when cancer struck – you need to “get back to normal.”

    Actually, you don’t. If a crazy, out-of-control schedule was sending stress levels sky-high before cancer, it doesn’t make sense to resume that same schedule after cancer. Look at what needs to be done – and I mean really NEEDS to be done. There’s a huge difference between “need” and “want” or “should.”

  • Do you need to cook dinner for your family? Yes, probably. But it doesn’t need to be gourmet; and, in some cases, if doesn’t need to happen every night. Let your teenage kids make their own sandwiches when they walk through the door at 8 p.m. Really, as much as they moan and groan, even after a full day at school, work, and/or practice, they have more energy than you do.

    Ditto laundry; older kids can do their own. And if they don’t fold it like you would, who cares? Let them go to school a wrinkled mess; it’s probably just the style they’re after.

    Do you have to vacuum dust out of the corners every week, or reach up for those cobwebs around the overhead fan? No. Does the lawn need to be cut every Saturday? No, probably not. And even if it does – do YOU have to be the one pushing the lawnmower?

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    Examine every single thing you do, and ask yourself: Am I doing this because it really needs to be done (grocery shopping – yes); or because I think it should be done (keeping the family room free of clutter – no). You may find yourself with a lot more time (and less stress) than you used to have.

    6) Clean and organize your “cancer area.” Most of us seem to collect copious amounts of cancer material as we go through treatment – either piles of papers and magazine clippings, or simply online bookmarks for good Web sites.

    Once you’re through active treatment, go through all the information and discard what you no longer need. Don’t keep all those chemo side effect articles; believe that you’ll never need them again, and prove it by recycling them (or deleting the bookmark).

    For things that you MIGHT need going forward (e.g., insurance information, a reminder where you got your favorite mastectomy bra), find a home that’s out of sight, but easy to remember. A folder in a file cabinet is always a good solution for stuff you want to keep, but don’t want to see every day.

    7) Get rid of your “cancer gear.” Wig, bandannas, hats; the cloth bags for your mastectomy drains; the oversized, button-front shirts you never liked, but had to wear after surgery; the yards and yards of perfectly good ace bandage you hated to throw away… Don’t need it anymore. Won’t need it again. Donate any decent stuff to your favorite secondhand store, and discard the rest.

    8) If you’re in stage 4 treatment, pick a goal you’d like to achieve, and work towards it: mentally, physically, and spiritually.

    Whether it’s a best friend’s wedding, the birth of a grandchild, your son’s high school graduation – determine how far in the future it is, and discuss with your doctor the treatment you’ll need to get there. Maybe it’s staying the course; the medicine you’re taking now seems to be keeping the cancer quiet. Or maybe it’s ramping up treatment, or trying something new, if cancer seems to be gaining.

    Decide – in your head, and in your heart – how important your goal is, and how it balances with the side effects of treatment. And if that goal is worth what you’ll have to go through to reach it, be prepared to struggle, and fall, and get up to struggle again.

  • Seeing your daughter holding her newborn child will be SO worth it.

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    9) If you’ve just been diagnosed, or are just starting treatment, resolve the following:
    •I’m strong, much stronger than I think. I’m going to get through this treatment and move on with my life.
    •I give myself permission to have bad days without feeling guilty. I know there’ll be times when I want to give up; when all I want is a big old pity party. It’s OK to feel whatever I feel; I’ll validate those feelings, then try to let them go if they’re negative, and hold onto them if they’re positive.
    •I’m taking off and discarding my Superwoman cape. Treatment WILL beat me down; it’s an inevitable side effect of killing the cancer. I won’t contribute to how beaten down I feel by trying to keep to my pre-cancer routine. I’m going to let go of responsibilities, especially those outside the home (e.g., chairing the annual soccer team bake sale); take naps without guilt; and ask for help – regularly.

    10) Check in with your resolutions on July 1. How are you doing? If the answer is “not so good,” figure out why. Were your resolutions too ambitious? Were they made when you didn’t have enough information to choose reasonable goals? Or have you simply given up on them?

    It’s not important if you’ve failed; the key is to get up and try again. A friend of mine has a plaque on his desk that reads as follows:

    Never give up. Never ever ever ever ever give up.

    Fitting words for anyone making New Year’s resolutions, AND for all of us with cancer.

Published On: December 21, 2010