Feature Archive

Managing Life With Breast Cancer

Here are 5 practical ways to make every day easier from the experts -- other women living with breast cancer.

By Jayne Garrison
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Cynthia Haines

Will anything help beat this fatigue ?
How do I cope when I'm home alone ?
How do I juggle all these medical appointments with everyone else's schedules ?
What do I do for dinner when I can't stand food and my family is hungry ?
How do I manage a house when I'm sick ?

Will anything help beat this fatigue?

It seems everything conspires to make us feel tired: the chemotherapy and radiation, the stress, even the depression. Don't be too hard on yourself. If you schedule your care in a smart way and indulge your body with naps when you need them, you'll probably find you have a bit more energy.

A few insiders' tricks can help:

  • Try to schedule your treatments on a Thursday or a Friday. That way you can rest over the weekend. If you still work, you'll also use fewer sick days.
  • Ask your doctor to order your blood drawn one day early. That way, if your blood counts are too low for treatment, you can save yourself a trip. There's no reason to sit around the hospital waiting for treatment that's going to be postponed.
  • Keep a reasonable schedule as much as you can. Your body has to use more energy when you change your daily routine. But this doesn't mean you should push yourself! You might keep a journal to figure out when you feel the most energetic and the most tired. Then schedule activities for your "up" hours, and a nap for the hour you feel most fatigued.
  • Exercise, even if it's just a 30-minute walk. Most us felt more energy when we were able to get some modest exercise. And that sense of well-being wasn't just in our minds. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute say that cancer patients who exercise have more energy, eat better, and feel better emotionally.
If none of these tips help, talk to your doctor and a counselor about whether you may be depressed. It's normal. We've all been there. In fact, you'd be crazy if you didn't feel depressed at times on this journey! It's important to address depression and get some help. That way you'll have more energy to fight your main opponent: cancer.

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How do I cope when I'm home alone?

Have family and friends help you get your house ready before you have surgery or chemo! There are a lot of small adjustments that will make your life easier. You'll definitely want a small stepstool so you don't have to reach high. Many women also have hand-held shower hoses and bathtub railings installed so they can shower parts of their body without getting their wound wet. And if you don't have an electric can opener, now's the time to get one.

Also, head to the store and stock up on any supplies you may need, like a digital thermometer with disposable probe covers, toiletries, and foods to settle your stomach. Create a "chemo survival bag," stocked with hard candy, slippers, books, videos, and a notepad and pen -- anything that will help entertain you and keep you organized during treatment.

When you're sick, you really want your house to be comfortable. Pamper yourself! You don't have to spend a lot of money. Several of us bought inflatable pillows for our baths, and we all bought extra pillows for our beds so we could sleep more comfortably after surgery. Stock up on lotions, powders, or bubble bath to make your skin sweet and soft.

But remember, the most important adjustment is the one you need to make in your mind. You can't be Superwoman during treatment. You can't juggle home, family, work and treatment like you did before. Learn to accept help!

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How do I juggle all these medical appointments with everyone else's schedules?

You're not a circus juggler; you've got to put your care first.

Prepare a phone list of "helpers," whether they're friends or volunteers from the American Cancer Society. Then use the list. The society has a program called "Road to Recovery," in which volunteers will drive you to various appointments and treatments. Your hospital may also have a free transportation van to take you to and from.

Be frank with friends. When they ask, "Is there anything I can do?" suggest they drive a child to practice once a week until you're finished with treatment. If you have a car pool, ask the other parents if they can pick up your days. Explain to your children that this shift is just temporary. You'll be able to drive them again after you're better.