Women who’ve been through it share how to deal with the challenges of breast cancer.
True, your doctors, nurse navigator and other pros can give you lots of insight when it comes to coping with chemo. Yet there’s nothing like tips from the women who “get it” best—those who’ve been there. That’s why we turned to Victoria, Lauren, Eloise and Colleen. Here, these breast cancer patients share the strategies that can help soothe you—body, mind and spirit.
Give mouth sores the slip
“I brought raspberry ice pops to my chemo sessions and kept them in the freezer there,” says Victoria St. Martin. While the nurse administered chemo, Victoria enjoyed an ice pop. “I do think that’s why I had only one or two mouth sores during all eight treatments.”
Ask for a prenatal massage
Victoria signed up for monthly spa massages. “I told them when I called that I’d had surgery and couldn’t lie on my stomach or raise my arms very much. They said, No problem! and gave me a prenatal massage, where I lay on my side. It was so relaxing!”
Ease your way to bald
Eloise Caggiano’s hair was elbow-length when she was diagnosed. The thought of losing it? Frightening! “My doctors recommended a shorter haircut to make the transition. And then I got a wig to match my short haircut. When I started wearing the wig, most people didn’t even notice.”
Apply for a temporary handicap tag
“This was a godsend,” says Victoria. In fact, “one day I forgot my handicap tag and had to park far away from the store. I ended up going home—I just could not physically handle the walk.” Apply for the tag application at your police department, then ask your oncologist to sign it.
Get a chemo “handler“
“A new friend of mine asked me for a list of my friends and worked out who would come with me to each treatment,” says Eloise. “The week before, she’d email that friend and tell her where to go and what to bring.”
Find the caring environment that feels right for you
Where you receive your care can make all the difference, says Colleen Hofmeister. “I realized early on that I needed ‘hugs with my drugs,’ ” so she found a cancer center in Philadelphia where she works with healthcare professionals “who have created an environment of love, healing and prayer.”
Ask questions without embarrassment!
Eloise printed out a “Questions to ask your oncologist” list and gave it to her doctor. “I’d say, ‘Here are the things I need to know.’ It was helpful, because sometimes your questions might be embarrassing or you worry you’re asking too many questions.”
“When I had PET scans, where you have to lie still for 45 minutes, I’d pretend I was getting a spa treatment,” says Victoria. “I’d close my eyes and pretend I was wrapped in seaweed, getting gorgeous.”
Use visual reminders
Lauren Miller papered her room and bathroom with sticky notes. “I surrounded myself with verses from the Bible, things people had said and positive statements like, I give chemo permission to rid my body of the cells that no longer serve my well-being. I did tons of those statements! I needed those visual reminders.”
Feel the love
Six years after her diagnosis, a meal program started by a friend for Colleen’s family (her sons were 11 and 15 at the time) is still going strong! “It makes you feel so loved to receive one of these packages,” says Colleen. Best of all, “it removes the stress of What am I going to feed the crew for dinner?”
During chemo, Lauren made her way around the room, drip attached, to chat with people who looked like they needed a boost. “I introduced myself and listened to them. I shared a word of encouragement.” When she was able, she brought meals to friends in treatment and accompanied them to surgeries. “Things like that go viral in the heavenly realm and come back to you—in terms of better mental and physical state. They get you out of the black hole of self-absorption.”
Choose your mood!
Colleen promised herself years ago that if anyone or anything got her down, she’d exit the situation. “From the people you deal with on a regular basis, to the colors you wear and all things in between—keep it positive. On ‘down’ days, I wear periwinkle blue—my favorite color.”
Work your sense of humor
Lauren’s reconstructive surgery required a skin graft from her back to the front of her torso. “I’d tell people, ‘Now I really don’t know whether I’m coming or going.’ Laughter is so important, especially during treatment.”
“Wear” your support
To remind Eloise they were always with her, Eloise’s friends made her a bracelet with each of their birthstones. “It was inexpensive, but worth a million!”
Get out into the world
After her diagnosis with stage IV cancer, Colleen quit her job. “But the more I stayed at home on the couch, the smaller my world became,” says Colleen. “I realized I wasn’t dying—at least not yet. I now work full-time and embrace the opportunity to think of something other than my health.”