How to make the breast cancer journey easier

Today’s post is written by Patricia Walling,  a graduate student working toward her Masters in Conservation Biology. She has both professional and volunteer experience in a hospital environment and currently resides in Washington state.

Three Things That Make the Breast Cancer Journey Easier

According to the National Cancer Institute, one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in her life. Happily, advancing medical technology has made breast cancer, when detected early, a very survivable condition. With a strong treatment plan, many women successfully go into remission and are eventually considered “cured.” A good medical team, which generally includes quality doctors, nurses as well as employees involved in medical transcription, is paramount to survival, but so is the maintenance of your quality of life. Knowing ahead of time what peripheral issues may surface during your breast cancer journey can help you to join the thousands of women who are triumphant breast cancer survivors.

How to Tell Family and Friends

The question of whom to tell and how much to tell can only be answered on an individual basis. Initially you may feel that you want to protect your privacy until you know what will happen next. While this approach is certainly understandable with friends, your immediate family will undoubtedly feel the need for more information. Spouses, children and others who are close to you will find information regarding your treatment plan and prognosis to be much more comforting than uncertainty. It may be helpful to rehearse how and what to say in advance. For your own benefit, you may want to preface your talk by outlining beforehand any boundaries regarding whether or not you are open to more in depth questions or advice. Though many people offer the latter out of genuine concern, you may already be overwhelmed with information. Stating your preference in advance will circumvent any hard feelings.

Managing Side Effects Naturally

Treatment for breast cancer often causes fatigue, changes in appetite or weight, nausea and skin irritation at the site of radiation treatments. While mitigating prescriptions are available for most of these symptoms, many women intuitively gravitate toward natural remedies as they encourage their bodies to heal. Natural remedies may be more appealing some women due to what the world-renowned Mayo calls cancer-related fatigue, which can be caused by medications, hormonal changes, nutrition and lack of sleep. Luckily, a number of herbal remedies and acupuncture have been found helpful in balancing hormones and assisting with sleep interruptions, and medical hypnosis has been found to be effective against nausea. It behooves anyone who may go through such an ordeal to consider looking into these treatments prior to their onset.

Body Image and Intimacy

Lumpectomies and mastectomies can change the image a cancer patient sees in the mirror, affecting her confidence and comfort with intimacy. Reconstructive surgery is a popular option in such cases, but the underlying psychological issues should also be addressed. The journey of breast cancer survival can be an intense one for both partners in an intimate relationship. Physical sharing provides an important way to reconnect with one another, create healing endorphins and reestablish a healthy relationship with one’s own body. If body image is a concern, having a calm discussion with your partner can help. Let your partner know specifically that you need reassurance in this area. Frankness is key: very often, friends and family want to say and do the right thing, but need you to provide them with some direction.

A New Understanding of Self and Health

A diagnosis of breast cancer is in many ways, an initiation into a class of warrior women. As you fight to regain your health, you will discover new layers to your inner self and new facets of your relationships to others. Breast cancer requires us to both reveal a fighting spirit and surrender to our own vulnerabilities as we seek support from others. No matter what your prognosis, perseverance will make you stronger.