For the past 25 years, October has been designated National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You’ll find races to run that raise funds for research. Stores will be selling everything from mixmasters to ipods in pink. In fact, pink ribbons will be virtually everywhere. What does this focus on early detection and recovery mean to you?
If you are over 40, have regular screening mammograms and perform monthly breast self-exams. And see your physician for an annual breast exam and consultation about risk factors and additional diagnostic steps to take, such as MRI. With early detection, most breast cancers now can be successfully treated. There are between 2 and 3 million American women living today who have survived breast cancer and are thriving. Yet, as many survivors have learned, the process of coping with any serious illness can take its toll – emotionally and physically. These 7 tips will help you manage your recovery so you can move forward with your life:
1. Accept your changing emotions as normal and give yourself permission to express them. After a brush with cancer, it’s normal to experience many different feelings, such as anger, fear, anxiety, depression or stress. Talk openly with those you trust and acknowledge these feelings to yourself. Only then can you begin to cope with them.
2. Recognize the changes in your body. You may feel that your body has betrayed you, leaving you vulnerable and with a loss of innocence about your own invincibility. Take time to grieve this loss. You may also experience side effects of the treatments – fatigue, weight change, hair loss, or menopausal symptoms. Once you determine how your body is reacting, you can address each of the symptoms in efforts to alleviate them.
3. Enjoy the support you receive from others. Your family and friends can provide a caring network. You may also want to join a breast cancer support group, either in person or on-line. Support is helpful in many ways – it gives you someone to listen to you when you need to talk, someone to give you information and feedback, someone to help you with practical matters such as meals and errands. Support will be there for you if you look for it. It may feel awkward at first to ask, but you’ll find friends want to do what they can to help you out.
4. Take care of yourself. Pamper yourself – you deserve it! Set aside time to start or continue an exercise program that includes aerobics, flexibility and strengthening exercises. Enjoy eating a more healthful diet, rich in fruits and vegetables. Schedule relaxation time to decrease the stresses in your life. Learn visualization techniques. Think about what you really enjoy doing and do it. Of course this may be easier said than done, but stick with your decision to make time for yourself. You can make it happen.
5. Redirect yourself toward active goal setting. When a serious illness strikes, you may feel like your life is completely out of control. To regain a sense of direction, reflect on the priorities that are important to you and then set a goal within your reach. Identify your strengths and build on them as you plan how to achieve your objectives. Journaling can help as you consider different strategies and options. Initiate your plan in small steps and review your progress regularly.
6. Make something positive come out of a difficult situation. Women who are able to find some positive meaning in negative circumstances experience growth as well as a sense of control and feelings of confidence and optimism. Think about how you can use the unique perspective you have gained to make the rest of your life richer and more meaningful.
7. Take credit for the challenge you have overcome and the changes you are making. Recognize and accept that you have faced many difficulties in the process of healing. Give yourself credit for the hard work it took to get to this point in your recovery. You have learned a lot about yourself – and made changes in the way you think, feel and react to others and the situation around you.
As women move through the steps of coping with breast cancer and its treatments, staying informed and involved in the process provides a sense of power and resiliency. One breast cancer survivor put it this way after completing a tough charity walk to raise funds for research: “As I crossed the ‘finish line’ in the pouring cold rain, I felt the exhilaration of my accomplishment, knowing that I had begun to trust myself again. I realized it had taken a long time for me to finally come to terms with the disease that had threatened my life. But now, with the acknowledgement and recognition that I allowed myself to accept from family and friends, I knew, through my tears, that I would have the strength to continue rebuilding myself, body and soul.”
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