Tips for Living Through Breast Cancer Treatment

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • A little insider knowledge goes a long way. Visit here regularly – in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’ll share a new breast cancer “insider secret” with you every day.


    •Feeling fatigued from treatment? Try to take a walk, no matter how short. You’re not experiencing the kind of fatigue that’s helped by constant rest/inactivity. Get your blood circulating and your muscles moving!


    •It can get cold in that radiation room! If you have an old turtleneck, cut the sleeves off it and wear those sleeves while you’re getting zapped; at least your arms will stay warm.

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    •Avoid spicy foods during chemo. You may feel like eating them, but they’re likely to irritate both your stomach and your mouth.


    •If you’ve worn a wig through chemo, consider getting it trimmed, little by little, till it’s fairly short. That way, when you finally remove it, it’ll just look like you got a haircut (that is, if your hair isn’t an entirely different color!)


    •Ask your hospital or cancer center if they have a survivorship clinic. These new-wave facilities are invaluable as you transition from active treatment into your life as a survivor.


    •Is the lump you feel in your breast anchored in place (i.e., not moveable); relatively firm, and doesn’t come and go with your period? Best to get it checked out sooner rather than later.

    •If you’re getting chemo and have any issues with small or collapsing blood vessels, consider getting a port; it’ll save you a lot of pain and soreness in the long run.


    •Anytime you’re hurting during treatment, don’t tough it out – a stiff upper lip never cured anything! Tell your providers what’s up so they can try to make you feel better.


    •Collect email addresses for as many of your health care providers as you can. Email is more direct than a receptionist or the hospital switchboard, and you’ll find out that some of your providers respond more readily to email than to a phone call.


    •Is that lump you feel in your breast soft, squishy, and moveable? It’s almost certainly a cyst, not cancer; but get it checked anyway.

    •Find out about patient freebies at your hospital or cancer center. Many places offer free massage, Reiki, special parking spots, and other benefits to cancer patients.


    •If you’re going to lose your hair from chemo, get a short, stylish cut before you start to lose it; it helps ease the transition emotionally.


    •Sports bras or soft camisoles are more comfortable than regular bras when you’re healing from breast surgery.

    •Worried about fluid leaking from your nipples? It’s probably not a breast cancer symptom, and almost certainly isn’t if it’s coming from both breasts, and it’s not bloody.


    •During chemo, don’t eat your favorite foods; just by association with the chemo experience, you run the risk of them never being your favorite foods again!


    •Make sure you have button-down-the-front shirts for after your mastectomy or lumpectomy. You don’t want to have to struggle to pull shirts on and off over your head.


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    •Chew ice chips during the first 5 minutes of your chemo injection. It’s supposed to help ward off mouth sores.


    •After breast surgery, keep a pillow in the car for as long as it takes your incision to heal. Put it between the seatbelt and your scar; it feels good, and protects your breast from sudden impact.

    •Is that pain in your breast cancer? Probably not; in general, pain isn’t a breast cancer symptom, unless it’s accompanied by redness/swelling.


    •Never, ever tell cancer horror stories to someone just beginning treatment. It’s not necessary, it’s self-indulgent, and no one wins.

    •Worried about lymphedema? Live a normal life, but take care of your affected arm: don’t work it to exhaustion, and take special care of cuts, burns, insect bites, and other injuries.


    •If your group insurance policy or HMO covers your mastectomy, your reconstruction or prosthesis and cosmetic surgery to the other breast must also be covered, as well as lymphedema treatment. It’s federal law.


    •After a mastectomy and/or reconstruction, insist on physical therapy as soon as you’re able to get it. This should help head off shoulder problems and possible lymphedema issues down the road.


    •Breast cancer is not preventable. But you can lower your risk by exercising, maintaining a good weight, eating healthy, and keeping alcohol intake to a minimum.


    •When the doctor tells you not to drive for "x weeks" after breast surgery, pay attention: (s)he’s not trying to limit your social life or ability to work. S/he's simply trying to protect your healing breast from the possible impact of the seatbelt across your chest, should you stop suddenly.


    •If you need to take hormone replacement therapy, limit it to a low dose and the shortest duration possible. HRT raises your breast cancer risk, and if you’re already a survivor, you should avoid it completely.


    •Having a mastectomy? The longer you’re in surgery, the longer it takes you to feel better. It’s said that every hour you’re under general anesthetic equals one full day of recovery time.


    •Don’t be surprised when they give you a marker and ask you to sign your breast before surgery. They want to make sure they work on the correct one. Really!

    • If you’re overweight, try to lose some pounds. The more fat you carry, the greater your lifetime risk of breast cancer.

    •Avoid alcohol as much as possible; evidence is strong that consuming more than 3-4 drinks a week (or more than 1-2 at a time) increases your breast cancer risk.


Published On: September 30, 2009