Summertime Tips for Breast Cancer Survivors
Jul 3, 2013 (updated Dec 16, 2014)
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Whether you’re in the midst of breast cancer treatment, or dealing with its lasting effects years later, summer brings special challenges for cancer survivors. Here are some tips that’ll help you enjoy a safe, happy, healthy summer.
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If you’re undergoing chemo, ask your oncologist just how much exposure you can have: some chemo drugs react badly to any kind of sunlight. If you’ve had radiation, keep affected areas completely covered; they burn more easily. For best protection, apply sunscreen (minimum SPF 45) at least 30 minutes before going outdoors.
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Minimize hot flashes
Hormone therapy often brings with it hot flashes, and the heat of summer makes them feel even worse. Avoid spicy foods, stay covered and cool, and limit alcohol and caffeine.
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Eat low-fat foods
It’s tempting to indulge, but remember, a lower-fat, lower-calorie diet helps prevent cancer recurrence. Substitute nonfat Greek yogurt, part-skim ricotta and farmers cheese for the sour cream/cream cheese in dips and spreads. On a hot day, low-fat frozen yogurt is just as satisfying as full-fat ice cream...really!
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Don't over-char your grilled food
Flame-grilling burgers and dogs, steak, chicken, and chops can create carcinogenic chemicals shown to encourage breast cancer. Marinating meats offers some protection against this chemical formation, as does pre-cooking, then finishing briefly on the grill. Avoid blackening meat at all costs; the darker the grill marks, the more risk of harm.
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Go for a swim
That’s including your prosthesis. A regular breast form can feel heavy and look awkward in the water. Check out special “swim forms,” ultra-light prostheses made of “whipped” silicone. They’re practically weightless, and attach to your skin with a gentle adhesive, so there’s no gap between you and your suit when you bend over.
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Keep your scalp covered
If you’ve lost your hair, you’ll want to take extra precautions outdoors. Your naked scalp is very sensitive to sun exposure–and “naked” includes those of you with hair that’s just beginning to grow back. Wear a hat large enough to protect ears and neck. If a hat feels too hot, rub sunscreen into your scalp and onto ears and neck.
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Try a synthetic wig
If you know you’re going to be wearing a wig this summer, you might want to consider synthetic rather than natural. Synthetic wigs are more breathable and comfortable. Wigs made from natural hair tend to be heavier and hotter.
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Stick to wine
Newest studies show that red wine, enjoyed in moderation (3 to 6 drinks a week), actually lowers your risk of dying from breast cancer–while slightly increasing your risk of recurrence. But other alcoholic beverages, though potentially very tempting, have no redeeming value–as far as breast cancer risk is concerned.
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Lymphedema, a side effect of mastectomy and/or lymph node removal, can cause uncomfortable swelling in areas where you’ve had surgery. If left untreated, it can become life-threatening. To prevent lymphedema, it’s important to protect your skin (arms and trunk) at all times.