A diagnosis of advanced breast cancer has a way of making you focus on what really matters. You didn't choose your condition, but you can choose to live well with it.
Committing to your mental and physical health makes a big difference in life with advanced breast cancer.
Riding the Emotional Wave
Treatment for the condition has one basic approach: Try the best option for your cancer, and if that stops working, move on to the next. That means the future is unclear, which can bring up feelings of fear, depression, hopelessness, grief, and anger.
Whatever your feelings are, it’s OK to feel them. Then try to handle those feelings in ways that will help you in the long run.
Educate yourself on your condition. Create a go-to support list, including friends, family, faith leaders, and oncology counselors. Join an online or in-person support group for people with advanced breast cancer. It feels good to be with people who get it.
The 3 Ps
Cancer can't stop you from making the most of your life. Learn the power of the three Ps:
- Keep planning your life. Don't cancel that beach trip. Keep working on your daughter's birthday party. Check a few things off your bucket list. Plans make life feel possible.
- Be present. Make your life more meaningful by giving people you love your full attention.
- Have a (mostly) positive attitude. Some days are going to get you down. And that's OK. But whenever you can, find ways to be grateful and have a positive perspective.
Learn When to Control or Let Go
After your diagnosis, working on your treatment plan may give you a much-needed voice in the decision-making process.
At this point, you may feel more freedom to focus on the therapies that will give you the kind of life you want instead of ones that cause a lot of side effects.
Before you meet with your doctor, take the time to think through your values, lifestyle, and how you want treatment to fit in. Consider all options, including clinical trials. These research studies may be a better option before you’ve had a lot of treatment for metastatic disease.
But it's also important to know when to let go. Sometimes, you just have to roll with the punches. Do your research, but don't let it control your life.
Be Good to Yourself
When you give yourself permission to focus on your own happiness for a few hours, you're stronger mentally and physically. Every little bit gives you an edge before your next treatment.
If you're feeling bad after getting a scan or treatment, for example, take a bubble bath, get a massage, or watch a favorite movie or two.
All the usual health advice applies for people with this condition -- don't smoke, don't drink a lot, and eat healthy food -- but exercise is key.
That doesn't have to mean a tough gym workout. Taking a walk or doing some yoga can help you feel less fatigued. It might even boost your appetite.
Bonus: Exercise releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals that give your mental health a boost.
Keep Control of Symptoms
Advanced breast cancer treatments like chemo and radiation often leave you feeling very fatigued, which can be tough to power through.
Other side effects include dry skin, weight gain or loss, rashes, nerve damage, pain, and nausea.
This is where a comfortable relationship with your cancer care team comes in handy. There’s often help for many treatment side effects, but your team can only treat them if they know what’s bothering you.
Jot down details about how you feel -- When do you feel symptoms? Where do you feel them the most? -- and talk about what's happening at your next appointment.