A Healthy Lifestyle
Your treatment plan is likely to cover many weeks or months. It may even be years, for example, if you need to take hormone therapy as part of your treatment plan.
Throughout your breast cancer journey, and afterwards, it is important that you take good care of yourself. Early on this will almost certainly mean asking other people for help. This can be particularly difficult for women, who are often used to being the ones who give care and putting their own needs at the bottom of the list.
If this is you, think of it this way: the best way you can continue to care for those you love, is by getting better. The cancer and its treatment will use up a lot of your energy – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. You need to use the limited and remaining energy left on yourself, so that you can get back your strength and gradually have more to give out to others again.
The type of care you need will depend to some extent on your stage of the cancer journey and how you personally tolerate the treatments.
Early on you are likely to need quite specific care. For example, if you have surgery, the hospital will give instructions about how to care for your wound, and what to do about the drain and dressings. After surgery, you may not be able to do routine or simple tasks, as your body needs to heal. It is very important to follow hospital instructions on care after surgery. If you try and do things too quickly you risk getting lymphedema, which can be a life-long complication of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Several weeks into your treatment your body will be recovering from surgery or the effects of other treatments (chemotherapy/radiation) over time, may well leave you feeling exhausted and/or in pain and/or depressed. Simple tasks, such as preparing food may be more than you can cope with at times, especially if a side effect of the treatment is nausea.
Longer term, even if your treatment is finished, the cancer or treatment side effects may be with you permanently. It may affect your strength or ability to do things that you did without thinking about before you had cancer. Accepting this or advocating for support for dealing with side effects, and/or allowing others to do these things for you is a way of taking care of yourself.
Taking care of yourself also includes having a healthy lifestyle. Although obviously no-one would choose cancer as a way of improving their life style, many women report that having cancer did have the benefit of helping them to live in a healthier way. A healthy lifestyle will give you more energy, make you more able to get pleasure out of life, can help manage side effects, and may reduce the chances of your cancer coming back.
General improvements for your health before, during and after treatment(s):
- Use your Survivor Care Plan (SCP) to help set goals for yourself. You can get a copy of the SCP from your healthcare provider or the NWT Cancer Care Navigators.
- Eat well. By this we mean a varied diet that includes lots of fresh foods and cuts down on things like processed foods, most fats and sugar. Canadian Cancer Society has a good section, which explains healthy eating during and after treatment. Speak to your health care provider and a nutritionist for more information on ways for improving or tweaking your daily nutrition.
- Stop smoking. The link between smoking and lung cancer is well known but it is also thought to increase the risk of breast cancer. Smoking can also lead to complications from treatment side effects, for example, by increasing the risk of a blood clot if you take hormone therapy.
- Cut down on alcohol. Research is clear that drinking, even moderately, increases the risk of getting breast cancer or a reccurrence of cancer. If you can, it is probably best to stop drinking completely; otherwise make it an occasional treat, and not more than two drinks a week.
- Specific exercises can help you recover from surgery and other treatment side effects, as well as, reduces the risk of lymphadema. Your cancer healthcare team should give you details of these, or ask your healthcare provider at home.
- General exercise is advised to keep your mind and body in good shape throughout your life. This doesn’t have to mean vigorous workouts at a gym; it can mean walking, organized sports, traditional games, dancing, … to name a few.
- Canadian Cancer Society has several pages on exercise, including how to introduce general exercise gradually during and after treatments.
- Manage your weight. If you are overweight or obese, this increases your chance of breast cancer recurring. A healthy lifestyle, following all the points mentioned here should help you to lose weight. Always consult with your healthcare providers before embarking on any diet.
- Your emotional health is important too:
- Join a cancer peer support group, an opportunity to share and be with others who have experienced cancer. The Action Group offers a monthly meeting, programs and peer to peer support for NWT women. Contact our Peer Support Facilitator for details. firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Take advantage of the supports offered by the NWT Oncology Social Worker, contact email@example.com or Phone toll-free: 1-866-313-7989.
- Take time to be on the land and enjoy nature or immerse yourself in some sort of craft or art.
- There are psycho-social/emotional support programs available through organizations like Wellspring.
- Ask for counseling.
We do know it’s a lot easier to talk about making these changes than actually doing them. You can ask your healthcare provider for help and engage a family member or friend to motivate you attain your health goals. Below are some more links to assist you: