With stage III or IV breast cancer, you’ll probably put a lot of focus on your treatment. That’s good. But remember that it’s also important to do things to help yourself feel as good as you can every step of the way.

“Breast cancer is unlike some other cancers because even if your cancer has metastasized [spread to other areas of your body], you may have many, many years ahead of you. You want to make them good years,” says Erin Macrae, MD, a medical oncologist with Columbus Oncology and Hematology Associates in Columbus, OH.

Steven Z. Pantilat, MD, a palliative care doctor and author of Life After the Diagnosis, agrees. “You don’t have to choose between surviving and your well-being,” he says. “In fact, making your care and comfort a priority can improve your treatment experience.” Try these seven ways to do just that.

Don’t Grin and Bear It

“You should not feel badly if you’re in pain and need more medication,” says Stephanie Bernik, MD, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

If you take a medication that causes side effects that bother you, such as constipation or brain fog, “Tell your doctor,” Bernik says. “There are new techniques and medications to try, like slow-release pain medication, patches, and even Botox in muscles if you’re using a tissue expander after mastectomy.”

Choose Your Cancer Team Carefully

Your experience will be better if you can talk to your doctors about what’s on your mind, and feel that they support you. And yes, it’s OK to switch doctors mid-treatment.

Marty Oxford, 55, wasn’t happy with the way her treatment for stage III breast cancer was going. “After surgery in 2015, I started chemo [at a local hospital] right away. A few months in, I was so weak I couldn’t take care of myself, and the doctors I was seeing didn’t seem to know what to do,” says Oxford, who lives in Pine Mountain, GA.

So Oxford made a bold move: She switched to a different facility, which specialized in cancer care, in the middle of chemo and radiation. “There, I was offered nutrition support, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and even acupuncture,” Oxford says. “I felt almost embarrassed to leave my other doctors -- like I should apologize for choosing what was best for me! But having a team that addressed my whole health helped me go from fighting for my life to living it.”

Ease Side Effects With Exercise

It may sound counterintuitive to get moving when you’re tired and nauseated. “But research consistently shows that exercise decreases side effects like fatigue, depression, and pain,” says Katie Deming, MD, a radiation oncologist with Kaiser Permanente in Portland, OR.

“Even walking 10 minutes at a time a few times a day can make a difference,” Deming says. “Strength training, like yoga or light weights, is also very helpful.” If you’re new to exercise or you have trouble moving because of treatments like surgery, work with a physical therapist. Ask your cancer doctor to recommend someone.

Realize That 'Pampering' Is Crucial Self-Care

“When you’re going through cancer treatment, you should absolutely do things that make you feel better about yourself. It can boost your self-confidence and even motivate you to keep taking healthy steps, like exercising,” Deming says.

That may be getting a wig if you’ve lost your hair (or wearing your temporary baldness proudly), having massage therapy (seek out a therapist who has treated people who have breast cancer), or finding the right lotion or oil to soothe dry skin. Not sure what products to use or who to see? Ask an oncology nurse -- they often know what works during breast cancer treatment.

Seek Support

When you’re used to helping everyone else, it can feel strange and even uncomfortable to be the one asking for a hand or a listening ear. But consider it part of your treatment, Deming says. Research shows that women with breast cancer who have social support tend to outlive those who don’t.

If you’re worried about burning out your closest friends and family, cast a wide net. “I asked the Prayer Line at my church not just to pray for me, but also to help with shopping and appointments,” says Anna Renault, 67, of Baltimore, who has stage IV metastatic breast cancer.

And when people ask if they can help, don’t just say yes. Tell them specific things that you need, like meals or child care. “I encourage patients to ask someone they enjoy spending time with to drive them to and from treatment,” Deming says. “It gives them a way to support you and can help you keep your spirits up.”

Ask Your Doctor About Palliative Care -- Now

Many people think palliative care is the same as hospice care, or that it’s only for end-stage diseases. It’s not.

“Palliative care physicians address all the symptoms of cancer and its treatment, and focus on improving your quality of life and your family’s, too,” says palliative care doctor Sandra Pedraza, MD, of Ohio State University’s Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. “We can help with pain, anxiety, stress, depression, dry mouth, muscle and joint pain, hot flashes, sleep trouble, swelling, the feelings that your quality of life isn’t good because of cancer or treatment, and more.”

Research shows that people who use palliative care have better treatment experiences. So if you don’t feel as good as you want to, “ask your physician to refer you to palliative care,” Pedraza says. In addition to prescription medication, palliative care specialists also help you use complementary treatments like acupuncture, hypnosis, biofeedback, and music therapy, which studies show can improve quality of life.

Not all doctors understand the role of palliative care in cancer treatment. If yours tells you that you’re not “ready” for palliative care, “Say, 'I know I’m not dying, but palliative care can also be for living well. I’d like to see a palliative care expert while I continue to see you for cancer treatment, too,' ” Pantilat says.

Talk to People Who Can Relate

Anxiety and fear can increase feelings of pain and lead to other issues, like sleep troubles. “Arming yourself with information can help ease your mind and empower you to be your own advocate,” Bernik says.

That doesn’t mean Googling everything you can find: “You may end up more anxious, because you can’t filter out worst-case scenarios or bad information,” Pantilat says.

Instead, talk to other people who’ve been through cancer treatment. “What helped me was talking to an old friend who had survived cancer,” Oxford says. “There’s no training for how to be a cancer patient, but my friend was able to say, ‘This is what is about to happen, here’s when you need to ask for help,’ ” she explains.

If you don’t have someone to talk to, consider joining a local or online support group. And you may also want to talk with a counselor or social worker who has worked with people who have cancer.  Your doctor or hospital should be able to help you find one.

Above all, remember that you’re much more than a breast cancer patient. You’re still you, and all of your resources can help you get through this difficult time.

WebMD Feature

WebMD Voices

Lisa B.
Coral Springs, FL
Within the past 14 years, I've been on chemo and hormone therapy. The part that gives me hope is new drugs and therapies are more abundant then 20 years ago, with more to come. Every day, breast cancer is my shadow, but is not my life.
Linda L.
Saddle River, NJ
Be your own advocate. If you have a question for your doctor and don't understand the answer, ask again. If it's difficult to speak up, ask a relative or friend to go with you. If you're not comfortable with your doctor or the treatment she recommends, get a second opinion.
Mary G.
Oregon, WI
Swimming helps my whole body relax and relieves my aching bones. Reaching and pulling strokes stretch out and massage my arm. Yoga keeps my breathing calmer, and I use techniques I learn in class to help me go to sleep at night.
Fabianna M.
Dover, NH
Celebrate small successes. It's about progress towards wellness, not an all-or-nothing scenario. After surgery, it was a while before I could drive. The day I got back in the driver's seat, I drove myself to the beach. I remember sitting on a bench for an hour, reveling in the joy of taking my life back.
Mary R.
Livonia, MI
When I was first diagnosed, I was in shock. Getting information helped. My husband and children helped by listening and allowing me to cry when I needed to. I also formed a support group at my hospital. Talking as a group and forming friendships is very helpful. We all know what each of us is going through.
Catriona M.
Canal Winchester, OH
Ask family and friends for help and support. It's so easy to want to try to do it all, but people really do want to help you. You'll need every ounce of strength you have, so let people bring meals and clean your house if they want to. For many, it's how they show they love and care about you.
Suzanne K.
San Francisco, CA
Put your energy elsewhere, in a better place. I got involved with new challenges that inspired me. I joined a new company. I got involved with the Cashmere Foundation, which brings the spa experience to patients undergoing chemotherapy. I feel I'm able to pay back, or perhaps pay it forward, while helping others.
Mary G.
Oregon, WI
Bring a support person to your first appointment to take notes and listen. Learn all you can on reputable websites. Breathe. Gather your inner circle of supportive friends and lean on them. It's OK to be mad as hell. There will be good and bad days. On bad days, think of the good ones just around the corner.
Sheila M.
Swansea, IL
For a very long time, I didn't accept it. When I finally did, I stopped worrying about things that were beyond my control and I started enjoying life. Having MBC has given me a new purpose through my advocacy work with Metavivor's Serenity Project. I want women to stand on my shoulders of hope and love.
Mary R.
Livonia, MI
I always feel better when I'm rested. I sleep 10-12 hours many days. Smiling and having a good sense of humor makes difficult situations better. I don't worry about small things anymore. Meditation, music, and massages help. I also cope by coloring and sewing, when I have the energy.
Sheila M.
Swansea, IL
People often tell me, "Well, you should do this or you should do that." There's no right or wrong answer on how we deal with this disease. I've learned to deal with it on my own terms and in my own way. I continue to let my faith guide me, and I continue to lean on my family and friends for support.
Lisa B.
Coral Springs, FL
In addition to treatment, I do daily meditation, which calms my body as well as my mind. I find it to be very peaceful. I also find walking and yoga to be a form of relaxation -- and it's healthy. I call it ‘doing my homework.' The drugs are doing their job, and it's my responsibility to take care of me.
Lauren H., 39
Oakley, CA
Many with stage IV hate the comment, ‘Well, you don't look sick at all!' This both implies that I should look weak and sad all the time. And since I don't, I'm throwing off their expectations of what someone with cancer should look like.
Jeanette R., 47
Advance, NC
This cancer has been an odd gift, opening my eyes to the beauty in the little everyday things in life. Slow down, pause, savor it. Repeat. … The more I pray for it and practice, the easier it gets.
Lara M., 42
Louisville, KY
The corner … I lived in fear of looking around it for nearly 5 years. Over time, I've learned how to live more fully present instead of worrying about the perceived future.
Ericia L., 42
Massillon, OH
It's about facing one's mortality while trying to keep the courage to continue on for your family. It's like walking through mud with high heels on. You slip and fall and then you get up and try again, over, and over, and over. Sometimes you stay down for a while, sometimes someone throws you a rope to help, but the mud is always there.
Suzi M., 54
White Cloud, MI
I lift up life with cancer with music! With a good soundtrack, I can get through anything. My life consists of various soundtracks that helped me through some of the most difficult times in my life.
Danielle W., 35
Green Bay, WI
Have I done everything that I wanted to do in life? Hell no! My kids are only 8. I’m 34 years old. But I’ll continue to live my life to the fullest with my kids’ happiness first and foremost.
Jeanette R., 47
Advance, NC
I haven’t felt like there has been any new news, but in reflection, that’s not entirely true. Every day that I wake up and get to go to work to help support my family is good news. Every day that I get to spend being a wife and mother is good news.
Lauren H., 39
Oakley, CA
The truth is, I’m not good at having stage IV cancer. I didn’t plan for this, and there aren’t books called 'How to be the Best Version of You With a Stage IV Diagnosis' to provide me with nine steps for dealing with my diagnosis. Instead, I figure it out every day.
Keeli A., 37
Erie, CO
My family’s priorities have changed. We take more vacations, worry about little things less. I’m trying to make my children’s childhood rich with memories and love. When they look back on me, I want them to remember the fun we had, not the illness.
Lara M., 42
Louisville, KY
I focus on gratitude for the moments my family shared, instead of tearfully wishing I could be back on my paddleboard, listening to the laughter of our kids jumping the crashing waves. I focus on the blessings here.
Carlene B., 49
Newfields, NH
I found Hope Scarves. Sending a scarf and a story of hope is such a heart-centered way to send support and love. So many people put their love and good energy into the scarves, the stories, and even the packaging -- how could you not feel that on the other end?
Dalynn C., 42
Lawrenceburg, KY
Life by the yard is hard; by the inch it’s a cinch.’ This concept was especially helpful to me. Going through chemo, it became my mantra: get through today, then we’ll deal with tomorrow. Get through chemo, then we’ll deal with surgery. Get through surgery, then we’ll deal with radiation. And so on.
Lara M., 42
Louisville, KY
We aren’t letting this derail our family’s life. We’re going to take the information as information, make a plan, and treat it. Sitting home and crying doesn’t help anything.

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