Having been diagnosed with breast cancer, your life has probably been filled with stress for some time now. As time goes by people usually find their level of stress and anxiety decreases, even if it doesn’t completely go away. It will take time and there will be ups and downs – just as everyone’s body is different, so is their ability to cope with stress. It's important that you find ways to cope that work for you and your lifestyle.
Some helpful techniques for relieving stress include:
- Exercise outside and connect with nature
- Spend time with friends and family
- Connect with people on mybc
- Keep a diary to record your feelings. If you’re feeling unhappy or stressed a lot, speak to your doctor
- Get creative – try painting or drawing
- Escape with a good book or movie
- Try massage therapy
- Do yoga, tai chi, meditation and deep breathing exercises.
- Use a mindfulness app and schedule regular, short mindfulness/meditation sessions during your day.
There is growing evidence that physical activity plays an important role during and after treatment for cancer.
The 10-year breast cancer survival rate is higher in patients who exercise regularly than in patients who don’t, so it pays to get out and get moving. A good goal to aim for (recommended by the World Health Organisation) is moderate exercise for at least three to five hours per week or 75 minutes of more vigorous exercise. Additional resistance/strength training is beneficial. You may need to build this up gradually.
Exercising regularly during and beyond treatment helps reduce cancer-related fatigue and psychological distress and helps reduce some of the side effects of treatment. It also helps to reduce the weight gain which is commonly associated with breast cancer treatments.
Physical activity has been shown in many studies to have the strongest effect of any lifestyle factors on reducing breast cancer recurrence, particularly in postmenopausal women, and reducing the risk of developing a second primary breast cancer.
Dragon boating is a fantastic, team sport for breast cancer patients. Developed by Canadian doctor Don McKenzie (who was looking for a sport that specifically benefitted breast cancer survivors), there are seven teams across New Zealand. Dragon boating has been shown to help reduce lymphoedema. The paddling can also be ‘uni-sided’ which can be good after breast surgery – this can then be gently developed into bilateral paddling over time. To find out more, or to look for a team to join, head to our services directory.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Maintaining a healthy weight reduces your chance of recurrence and helps keep you generally healthy.
Many patients gain weight during and after active breast cancer treatment. This may be due to stress eating, reduced activity due to fatigue, or use of other medications, e.g. steroids during chemotherapy treatments and the metabolic effects of chemotherapy. Treatment-related menopause also results in weight gain for many women. Many clinical studies have shown that weight gain during and after treatment and being overweight or obese at diagnosis has an adverse effect on breast cancer outcomes. All women with breast cancer should try to keep their weight within a healthy range.
There is no particular style of diet or dietary intervention (e.g. eating totally organically, cutting out sugar, etc) that has been proven to be more beneficial than another in reducing the risk of breast cancer recurrence.
It was previously thought that anyone with breast cancer should avoid eating soy foods such as edamame beans, miso soup, tofu and tempeh, but clinical studies have not supported this recommendation.
However a healthy eating regime has overall health benefits. Consider these ideas:
- Buy a new fruit or vegetable every time you go to the supermarket. This will help you eat a variety of food and a variety of nutrients/vitamins.
- Eat whole fruit rather than drinking fruit juice. Whole fruit reduces calories, adds fibre and gives a feeling of fullness.
- Avoid salt-cured, pickled or smoked foods.
- Bake or grill food – limit frying.
- Choose wholegrain breads.
- Eat more fibre – add vegetables wherever possible, choose high-fibre cereals, use wholegrain flour, add kidney beans or black beans to soup and salads.
- Limit your saturated fat intake. Choose monounsaturated fats such as avocados and olive oil and polyunsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds, oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herrings, etc).
- Avoid trans-fat often found in bought biscuits, crackers, snack foods, fried foods, pastries and other baked goods.
- Limit processed meats – e.g. sausages, salami. The World Health Organisation says regular consumption of high quantities of these foods has been shown to cause bowel cancer. There isn't enough evidence to say whether there's any increased breast cancer risk.
- Choose lean cuts of meat, fish and poultry.
- Be "mindful" while eating. Studies show that we tend to consume more calories if we eat while engaging in other activities, e.g. watching TV, driving, reading, etc.
A breast cancer diagnosis can have a big impact on your emotional wellbeing. Remember, your emotional wellbeing is just as important as your physical health, and you might need some support. Having to face cancer is probably one of the most stressful situations you are ever likely to face, and remember, there is no right or wrong way to cope – only what works for you. Give yourself plenty of time to adapt. Be patient and don’t expect too much too soon.
There are also ways to help yourself deal with the emotional strain of living with cancer.
Some of these included practicing mindfulness, emotional awareness, and connecting with others. For more information on these visit our complementary therapies page.
Webinar: Living life after breast cancer
Moving forward after breast cancer can be difficult and you may have trouble readjusting. Our webinar looks at the ways to look forward after treatment.
Dealing with challenges
You may face challenges, such as:
- accepting the fact that you have cancer
- the stresses of medical treatment
- changing emotional needs
- depression, anxiety, relationship and care-giving strains
- coping with pain
- insomnia and other symptoms.
Patients and caregivers often need short-term and longer-term support to help with these emotional difficulties and mental health problems.
For anyone with a breast cancer diagnosis, there is free counselling available funded through Breast Cancer Foundation NZ. For more information and a referral form, visit the free counselling page
If you would like to speak to others with breast cancer, join the mybc breast cancer community. Register online or download the app on your phone.
Andrea Fairbairn, who’s had breast cancer twice, shares 33 tips to living life after breast cancer. From managing your health in recovery to celebrating your life, the book’s goal is to help you rebuild your life in a positive way. Download the free e-book.
Making positive lifestyle changes after diagnosis and treatment can have a strong psychological benefit, as the feeling of loss of control is one of the major challenges faced by people with breast cancer. Choosing to make positive changes can be very empowering and it helps to know you are continuing to take steps to maintain good health, even after active medical treatment has ended. Active changes such as reducing stress, losing excess weight, increasing physical activity, quitting smoking and eating healthily contribute to an overall improvement in physical and emotional wellbeing.