Now that October - National Breast Cancer Awareness Month - is here, women focus on early detection and improved treatments. As a breast cancer survivor myself, I have participated in many Walks over the years and over the weekend I again joined with others to raise funds for finding a cure. The camaraderie that comes from walking together and working together to fight breast cancer transforms a feeling of helplessness to a powerful sense of control.
Thriving after any serious illness is complicated and sometimes feels like an uphill struggle. Staying informed and involved can help you move forward and become more resilient. The National Cancer Institute has a wide range of materials to make this job easier. And here are some tips to help manage your recovery so you can support yourself - emotionally and physically - along the difficult course of dealing with beast cancer.
Accept your changing emotions as normal and give yourself permission to express them. After a brush with cancer, it is normal to feel many different emotions such as anger, fear, worry, anxiety, depression, stress or loss of control. It's OK to express these to people you trust and acknowledge them to yourself. Only then can you begin to cope with them.
Turn to others for support. Your family and friends can provide a network of comfort, encouragement and assistance. You may also want to join a breast cancer support group, either in person or on-line. Support will be there for you if you look for it. It may feel awkward at first to ask for help, but you'll find friends want to do what they can for you.
Begin to set new goals for yourself. When you're first diagnosed with breast cancer, you may feel like your life is completely out of control. To regain a sense of direction, reflect on what priorities are important to you and set a goal within your reach. Identify your strengths and build on them as you plan how to achieve your objectives. You may want to start a journal to help you consider strategies and options.
Look for ways to draw something positive out of the experience. Women who find positive meaning in a negative situation often experience growth as well as feelings of confidence and optimism. Use your unique perspective to make the rest of your life richer and more meaningful. Nancy G. Brinker supported her sister Susan in her fight against breast cancer and founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world's largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists.
Recognize the changes in your body. You may feel that your body has betrayed you, leaving you feeling vulnerable and with a loss of innocence about your own invincibility. You may be experiencing side effects of the treatment such as fatigue, stiffness, lymphedema, weight gain, menopausal symptoms. Once you acknowledge how your body is reacting, you can work to alleviate the symptoms.
Take good care of yourself. Follow the guidelines of the American Cancer Society and set aside time for you. Schedule relaxation time to decrease the stresses in your life. Begin an exercise program that includes aerobics, flexibility and strengthening exercises. Enjoy eating a more healthful diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Think about what you really like to do and decide to do it.
Take credit for the challenge you have faced and the changes you are making. Recognize and accept that you have faced many difficulties in your process of healing. Give yourself kudos for the hard work you have completed to get to this point in your recovery. You have learned about yourself and made changes in the way you think, feel and act.
You may be overwhelmed by the challenges you face after breast cancer and wonder if you have the energy to cope with it all. Remember that just as in a 5K walk, when you begin to put one foot in front of the other, you will eventually get to where you want to be. And you may even arrive with a new perspective and a greater appreciation of the preciousness of your life.
(c) Her Mentor Center, 2011