A breast cancer diagnosis is only the beginning of an arduous journey. Patients rely on the doctors and nurses to have well researched treatment plans, support resources, and recommendations on how to make the process less difficult to bear. However, four SGNT breast cancer survivors have shared what they wish they had known prior to beginning their treatment.
Maintain Physical Awareness
It is critical for a patient to be aware of their surroundings, because of increased chance of infection while undergoing chemotherapy. Barb cautions,
“And while [my doctor] did warn me to avoid small children or ill folks for 48 hours after chemo, he didn’t mention avoiding work when there’d be large meetings (and I didn’t think about it). I went to a work conference and ended up getting really sick as someone there had a virus.”
In addition to being mindful of your environment, Roma reminds patients to be mindful of their pocketbooks even if you have insurance,
“Cancer is expensive to go through. Especially if you have to travel for treatment and deductibles. When you get cancer, everything gets put on the back burner and stuff doesn’t get done. Then you look at money differently and you feel you need to keep working to cover expenses or what might happen in the future with your health. [You can end up in a] bad cycle.”
Patient R tried to be mindful of her nutrition,
“Diet is important. It isn’t emphasized enough. Nutritionists should be available for all patients. I chose to pay out of pocket to see a Nutritionist and it’s been worth it. Removing refined sugar from my diet was really helpful. Cancer feeds on sugar. I got tested for anything that causes inflammation and removed anything that causes inflammation.”
Barb, initially took a different approach to her diet based upon assumptions of chemotherapy’s impact on the body,
“I thought I’d be so sick that I’d lose weight. I ate a lot of junk food to gain 10 pounds in the 4 weeks leading up to my first chemo since I’ve always had underweight/anemia issues. I didn’t get sick, I didn’t lose the weight, and it’s stuck with me for the last 4 plus years. Darn it!!”
Every patient’s experience is unique. Lori got so sick during treatment, that she sought out alternative forms of relief. She found that for her, CBD oil helped with nausea, anxiety, sleep, inflammation and joint pain. She didn’t find out about this until a year after her diagnosis and she wishes she had known about it from the start. She even takes it now for joint pain from the lingering chemo effects. She takes it at night because it makes her sleepy. She doesn’t do well with pain medication like hydrocodone. She was told about CBD oil from a family member and was able to sleep for the first time in three days.
Maintain Mental Awareness
Sometimes the challenges that need to be overcome are mental. Lori reminds patients,
“A normal routine [can give] you purpose, it helps you fight, prevents the horrible stuff from going through your mind.”
She made arrangements at work to go in on Monday, Tuesday and a half day Wednesday, do her treatments on Wednesday afternoons, and then be off Thursday and Friday. Making similar arrangements for yourself with your employer can help you maintain a balance.
Barb encountered a different mental hurdle,
“I wish I’d known the likelihood of ‘missing a chemo treatment due to labs or bloodwork not being acceptable.’ I had a number in my mind – 16 treatments over 20 weeks. The first time my red blood cell count was out of range, and they told me I couldn’t do chemo that week, was the first time I wanted to sit down and cry. I had this goal of 20 weeks in my mind and I had to adjust that mental calendar to 21 (and later 22). Pre-warning that the treatment plan is a PLAN and ‘X percent of the time it extends’, would have better prepared my control-freak self.”
Despite the diligent planning and preparation, the entire process can still be terrifying. However, Barb notes,
“ I wish someone had told me how much better chemo treatment for breast cancer is today. That might have reduced the concern/fear of going thru those 20 weeks.” With reputable medical professionals standing behind her every step of the way, Kelly said, “I was so well prepared by Dr.Clliford and his nurse and Dr Allada there were really NO surprises. The loss of appetite and hair were REAL. The nausea and sickness were there. I truly can say I was on a very strong chemo treatment and it was not as bad as I was expecting -I was STRONG and a FIGHTER!”
Every breast cancer patient is an example of a fighter in the face of adversity. Regardless, of their internal fortitude, having external support is critical. Check back next week to find out what breast cancer survivors wish their family and friends knew to help support their recovery.