I completed my year of treatment and came out the other side better than before. I continue to survive and thrive through my breast cancer journey. I thought I would reflect on the things I have learned to date. For those starting their journey or have a friend or family member starting I hope you find this helpful.
No one really properly described to me in layman’s terms what was happening inside my body. What I came to understand is that we all have good and bad cells in our body. When the body’s immune system is compromised enough and for enough time, the bad cells have a chance to overtake the good cells and eventually tumors form and move throughout the body. To change this not only do the bad cells need to be killed off, but the terrain in which the cells live needs to be altered for the good cells to take over again (Lifestyle Changes). The purpose of Chemotherapy and radiation is to kill off the bad cells. The problem is these treatments will also kill off the good cells. When this happens those things in your body that are weak are exploited and this is often when the side effects happen.
The first few weeks after diagnosis were chaos and fear. I quickly realized I needed to find a way to channel those emotions and stay positive. Although I felt like my life was being taken away from me, I decided to find a way to live day to day, find something to enjoy and laugh at because laughter really is the best medicine.
I was so humbled by the many people that came out of the woodwork and wanted to help but trying to talk to all of them was exhausting. I decided to form a team and identify someone as the point person. I started a blog that I would post to keep everyone up to date on what was happening. This helped so if I was talking to someone the discussion was not all about the disease but could be about real life. I also opened a Signupgenius account. This enabled me to post to the team of people what it was I needed, and people could self-select based on their own lives and I did not have to feel like I was begging.
Do not be shy about asking. I learned people really do want to help and feel good when they do. So as uncomfortable as it is to ask, your friends and family really do want to be there for you. Be creative about what you need. So maybe you host movie nights, but part of the gig is people bring the popcorn and must clean up afterwards too. If you need shopping done, you can ask weekly for someone to take your list with them when they go for themselves. But think about what you really need; assistance with tasks, social company, motivator, or compassionate listener.
The rule of thumb now is everyone should be drinking half their body weight in fluid oz. That meant I normally should be drinking 64oz of water a day. While on Chemo I was drinking 80 – 120 oz of water and still felt thirsty. It helped to remove the toxins in my body after treatments and helped to relieve any nausea I was experiencing. I think it also helped me to keep moving.
I would encourage you to find some type of movement that you can work up to and sustain. You will know what the point is that it flips from dragging your butt to energizing you, for me it was 1 hour.
I know how tired and crappy you will feel on any given day. But find a way to do up to at least 1 hour of constant movement. The movement gets the lymphatic system working which again helps to remove the toxins in your body.
I started walking every morning with a neighbor. I got up to 3 miles an hour. Since I had company it was easier to ignore how I felt and just walk through the rough points. By the time I got home I felt much better, and I would feel better the rest of the day. The days I did not walk or waited later in the day I would feel like crap and the fatigue would take over. Even now I can feel a difference when I do not walk. When I cannot walk outside, I walk on a treadmill with a TV or book to distract me.
Start thinking of food as medicine. As soon as I did this, I was able to prepare my body to withstand the chemo better. What your body will do when it is hit with the Chemo is fight back. It fights back by creating inflammation in your body. If you are also eating food that create inflammation or do not help reduce it, you will not feel good. Unfortunately, many of the medical professionals only focus on making sure you have proteins = meats, chicken, because it is an efficient protein source meaning you get all types of proteins in one serving on your plate. Instead, they should be concerned with all types of nutrients that your body is being depleted as well as the protein.
In my research I found the book “The China Study; Second Edition” This book addressed nutrition research from the 1970’s forward and addressed many of our diseases and what they learned about preventing those same diseases.
I chose to move to a plant-based diet and kept wild caught fish and organic eggs. I refer to this as a modified Vegan and modified Mediterranean diet. I eliminated the food that cause inflammation; meat, chicken, dairy, sugar, and because my cancer is estrogen driven, I kept Soy out as well. I also started eating mainly organic foods to again take toxins out of my world. It required a new way of thinking and eating, but I felt so much better. I never worried about how much I was eating, if I was hungry, I ate and still do.
You may experience times when you just cannot eat. I found that drinking my nutrients helped. Making your own smoothies or overnight oats will help. Do not go out and buy smoothies, they will have too much sugar. If you cannot change your diet then I would recommend sticking to organic chicken, fish, organic vegetable, organic fruit, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Eliminate sugar that are not natural you will physically feel better. Sugars that are ok would be those that also incorporate fiber (i.e. Dates, whole fruits, maple syrup, molasses). A high-powered blender and food processor will become your friend in the kitchen.
One of the alternative therapies I tried was acupuncture. OMG! Did it work. I started acupuncture the second week of chemo (I had 12 weekly infusions). I had worse nausea week 3 than I did week 10. I would always feel wonderful for a few days after a session. If you can afford it, it will really help you get through the treatments.
Things to Expect
Your stamina will diminish - I did not feel a draggy fatigue feeling as much as my days got shorter. I would get up in the morning do my morning rituals, eat breakfast, walk, then try to meet with friends, do a project, or something else, but by the time 7pm rolled around I was up getting ready for bed and asleep by 8 – 8:30pm.
Your motivation will disappear – By my week 10 everything I wanted to do felt like way too much work. I had a hard time getting myself to do anything that was not part of my daily routine; various body routines, breakfast, walk, lunch, often times walk again in the afternoon, dinner then bed.
Your focus and memory will be impaired – When I switch tasks instead of it taking the normal 15 – 20 minutes to return to the first task it is taking days. I am told this is normal with chemo. I also had memory problems, but a year to two years out memory has improved. Chemo Brain really is a thing. I am told your brain does recover after chemo is done. I always carry a tablet or notebook to write things down. This way I can refresh my memory and recall things. It is getting better.
The One thing I Wished I Had Done Differently
Last summer I found a book that I want to recommend to you; “The Cancer Revolutions” by Dr. Erin Connealey. She is an Integrative Oncologist in Irvine CA. The book provides the road map for the “Lifestyle Changes” all the doctors speak of and recommend but say no more about or really address. I found that a lot of the things I did, and changes put me halfway down the road already. If I had had this book, I would not have had to recreate the wheel. The Cancer Revolution book and another one I found called The Cancer Secret (more technical about cancer disease) prompted me to search out an integrative oncologist to work with as well.
I will warn you there is a lot of politics between these two types of medical doctors. But I pushed through anyway. My attitude was that the Oncologist was doing his part to kill off the cancer cells and remove tumors, it was my job to change the terrain of my body, so it was inhospitable to the bad cells. I needed information about what was happening in my body to do this in a strategic and targeted way. Hence the Integrative doctor.
Once I went to the integrative doctor, I learned that my gut health needed repair. He put me on a Pre and Pro biotic. I am learning there is much research out there pointing to the fact that Cancer is a form of autoimmune disease and autoimmune diseases might start with gut health. Fascinating!
Reach out early to an Integrative Medical team. It could make the difference in how comfortable you are, and longevity. The medical doctors base everything on statistics, so they cannot tell you really what will happen to you.
Keep the Faith and stay positive.