4. Seek help in navigating financial issues, if necessary. Your hospital or clinic should have a social worker, patient navigator or financial services department to help you manage financial issues and deal with private insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid. If you have concerns, request an appointment.
5. Talk to your doctor about coping with menopause symptoms. Breast cancer patients who have undergone chemotherapy, ovary removal, or who have had to discontinue hormone replacement therapy upon diagnosis may experience symptoms of menopause. Talk to your doctor about how to safely minimize menopausal symptoms.
6. Get good nutrition. Your cancer treatment may influence your ability to taste and smell, and it may alter your digestion. Foods that you normally enjoy may not taste good during treatment while, paradoxically, foods that normally don’t appeal to you might taste better. You may prefer and tolerate more cooked versus raw vegetables, so a vegetable stew or soup may be more appealing than a salad. You may have more energy and less nausea if you eat smaller amounts of foods more frequently rather than eating three big meals per day. Try not to gain weight by overindulging and blowing your calorie budget. Help fight your cancer by eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes such as black beans and lentils. Choose a rainbow of colorful whole foods (like deep greens of spinach, deep blues of blueberries, white for onions, and so on) to ensure that you get a variety of anti-cancer nutrients. Alcohol is usually not preferred or recommended during treatment, but if you do drink, limit your intake to no more than three drinks per week. Recent studies have shown an association between alcohol and increased risk of breast cancer.
7. Take steps to prevent lymphedema. Lymphedema is a side effect of breast cancer treatment that involves swelling of the soft tissues of the arm, hand or chest wall. It isn’t life threatening, but it needs to be treated to avoid getting worse. The swelling may be accompanied by numbness, discomfort and infection. There’s no reliable way to assess your risk for lymphedema, but by taking proper precautions you can greatly reduce your chances of developing the condition. Ask your doctor about scheduling physical therapy if you notice symptoms, or consider seeing a physical therapist even before symptoms begin in order to minimize their chance of developing in the first place.
8. Get exercise. Gentle exercise during treatment, such as regular walks, can help with both the mental and physical effects of treatment. After treatment is completed, increasing your exercise gradually will help improve your fatigue and rebuild muscle tone. Getting your circulation going may also help with chemobrain, the mental fogginess noticed by some patients during and after chemotherapy, and it can certainly improve your mood and your outlook on life. Try yoga, tai chi, swimming or water aerobics. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. If you are having difficulty exercising or aren’t sure what to do, request a referral to a physical therapist from your medical provider.
9. Bone up on bone health. Keeping your bones healthy throughout your life is important; however, if you’re a woman who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer, bone health is especially important. Research shows that some breast cancer treatments can lead to bone loss. Plus, women are about twice as likely as men to develop osteoporosis after age 50. Talk to your health care team about specific recommendations for keeping bones healthy, taking calcium and vitamin D, and appropriate weight-bearing exercises to help keep bones strong.
10. Treatment and work. Some people are able to work throughout their cancer treatment. Yet for some, reducing one’s work capacity or taking a break altogether may be necessary. If you take time off and then return to work shortly after your treatment ends, you may find that it helps you maintain your identity and even boosts your self-esteem, not to mention your income. You may want to talk with your employer about options such as flextime, job sharing or working from home. Options like these may help your mind and body ease back into the demands of your job. Try to be patient and take care of yourself as you go back to your “normal” life.