6 Tips to Support a Loved One After Breast Cancer Recovery

Very helpful information…Once a cancer patient is in recovery most people think that the worst is over, and it is as far as treatments and surgeries are concerned. But recovery involves not only dealing with and healing from the physical effects, but the mental effects as well. As the first sentence of this article states, “Even if your person appears strong on the outside, understand that their mind and body are still recovering from a trauma.”  Breast cancer and what a patient has to endure to survive it, is indeed a trauma, so it is very important that their support system is there for them more than ever when moving into the recovery phase.

Recovery from cancer is not easy, it takes time to navigate through all of the experiences and emotions that come up during what seems like endless chemotherapy and radiation treatments, blood draws, scans and surgeries. Coming to terms with the damage that everything I have been through has done to my body and mind is overwhelming at times. Every time I look in the mirror it is impossible to ignore my slowly growing hair, the scars on my breasts and the discolored skin under my left arm, from radiation treatments. I know that as time passes my hair will grow back and the scars and discoloration will fade, and maybe as I see those changes then I will feel like I am moving through my recovery instead of feeling like I do now, impatient and stuck.

I have to say that with Covid-19 limiting socialization and disrupting life as we know it, there is a stress that normally wouldn’t be an issue. I would be working on getting back to a normal life, life before breast cancer, and I am, but I am also dealing with the isolation and depression that the virus has brought to most of us at one time or another in the last few months. Normally, I would still be working at my job, and not laid off, which really helps keep me focused in all aspects of my life. I would also be making plans to spend much needed time with friends and family as I miss them terribly and being around them would help my recovery in so many ways. So in the meantime as I wait to find out when I will be going back to work and we finally get to a time when it is safe to get together again with those that we love; I am doing what I can each day to get through these uncertain times as best as I can.

Medically reviewed by Krystal Cascetta, MD — Written by Theodora Blanchfield on July 6, 2020

Even if your person appears strong on the outside, understand that their mind and body are still recovering from a trauma.

If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you may remember what it felt like immediately after your loss: friends checking in on you, bringing you food, and generally showing up for you. But as weeks fade into months and months into years, those check ins drop off — or disappear altogether.

This feeling is all too familiar to some breast cancer survivors who may suddenly feel alone as they struggle to adjust to their new normal.

Do you want to be there for your friend but have no idea where to start? We talked to mental health experts who work with cancer survivors to get the scoop on how you can continue to show up.

1. Respect their trauma and grief

“Loved ones should understand that a great deal of loss has occurred for the survivor,” says Renee Exelbert, PhD, CFT, a psycho-oncologist and breast cancer survivor.

This includes loss of safety in their body, loss of safety in the world, and sometimes, the loss of physical body parts, or the loss of prior functioning, she explains.

With that loss comes relearning how to relate in the world.

Even if your person appears strong on the outside, “understand that their mind and body are still recovering from a trauma,” says Gabriela Gutierrez, LMFT, clinical oncology therapist at Loma Linda University Cancer Center.

The physical loss associated with breast cancer can lead to a kind of identity rebuilding, she says.

“Women are learning how to still see themselves as women even after their breasts have been altered or removed all together,” Gutierrez says.

2. Understand fear of recurrence

You may be wondering why your friend isn’t being more celebratory. After all, they just got a clean bill of health and survived cancer.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, up to 50 percent of breast cancer survivors worry their cancer will come back.

“This fear of recurrence is a very common phenomenon that patients face as their bodies learn how to adjust back into the ‘normal world’ and as their bodies process the physical and emotional trauma they just endured.”

3. Ask what their needs are

It may be tempting to want to jump in and try to “fix” things or to try to take the burden off of them, but now is the time for your loved one to tell you what they need.

Because their process was so emotionally grueling, there are all kinds of things that may be innocuous to you but a trigger to them, such as a food they couldn’t eat while they were sick.

“Careful listening will demonstrate the desire to help the survivor feel connected to and understood,” says Exelbert. “Knowing that someone wants to help you is extremely meaningful.”

“But if they’re feeling stuck knowing what they need, you might want to offer to help them get back on track with exercise or other forms of self-care,” she says.

4. Continue showing up

More than anything, your person just needs to know that you’ll continue to be there for them.

“Remind them to be patient with themselves, and to have compassion for themselves,” says Gutierrez. “Remind them it is OK to bring up hard conversations with you, so long as you feel like you are a safe person to do so with.”

They may be afraid to bring up these heavy emotions with you, and they need to know they’re not a burden to you.

5. Understand their priorities may have shifted

You’ve been running with your friend for 10 years, and now that she’s healthy again you’re wondering why she’s not interested in running.

When someone has gone through a traumatic experience like an illness, perspectives and priorities will shift. Understand that it’s not personal.

“Loved ones need to be aware that the survivor may not place the same value or importance on previously shared values, relationships, or stressors,” says Exelbert. “What was at one time significant to the survivor, may no longer carry relevance at all.”

6. Take care of yourself

How can you take care of someone else if you’re not taking care of yourself?

“Many caregivers feel they do not deserve a voice as they were not the patient, but cancer is a relational illness, and your experience matters as well,” says Gutierrez.

You were also part of the emotional cancer journey, and your feelings are valid, too.

If processing your own grief and trauma around the experience is too much for you, consider finding a therapist to help you work through it.

Breast Cancer Glossary: 41 Terms You Should Know

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer it was unimaginably overwhelming in so many ways. My head was spinning with questions and fears and like many newly diagnosed patients, I felt like I needed to quickly learn a new language. Little by little I began to understand my diagnosis and what it meant for me as a breast cancer patient. Now, 16 months later, I have come across all of these terms either through my own experiences, discussions with my doctors or by reading the endless sources of information that I have discovered along the way. In the beginning of my journey it would have been so helpful to have all of the information below in one place for me to reference. I hope by sharing this article I am able to help answer some of the questions you might have as a breast cancer patient or a caregiver to a breast cancer patient.

At the bottom of this article, Monica suggests writing your cancer story basics using this guide. I am finding that quite often people will ask me for this information whether it is in a new forum that I have joined or during a conversation I am having with someone new. I have included my cancer story basics here in this blog post and on my “About Me” page.

My Cancer Story Basics: I was Dx at age 51 w/ ER/PR+, HER2-, IDC. I have had ACT, Rads, and I am on a 10 yr plan w/ HT, Anastrozole. My cancerversary is the date of Dx on February 25th, 2019. I have had a partial mastectomy, port-a-cath insertion, reconstruction w/reduction mammoplasty and insertion of breast prosthesis following reconstruction.

The author of this article, Monica Haro, is the community guide for the breast cancer support app BC Healthline. This particular app has been an amazing source of support for me both while I was in the middle of fighting breast cancer and also now that I am learning to live life as a survivor.

Medically reviewed by Krystal Cascetta, MD — Written by Monica Haro on July 6, 2020

Utterly overwhelmed is how I felt when I faced the uncertainty and devastation of my breast cancer diagnosis 5 years ago.

I dove into online communities to connect, observe, research, and be heard. When I did, I was lost on some of the language. There were so many terms, acronyms, and abbreviations to learn.

Some things that now seem obvious to understand weren’t while dealing with a brain processing the new trauma of my cancer diagnosis.

If you’re wondering what in the world a red devil, foob, expander, and ooph is, I’ve got you.

15 Foods That Boost the Immune System

With everything going on these days, it doesn’t hurt to add as many of these foods into your diet as possible. For cancer patients, it is particularly important to keep your immune system protected and boosted with good healthy foods.

Medically reviewed by Amy Richter, RD — Written by James Schend — Updated on April 30, 2020

Immune system boosters

Feeding your body certain foods may help keep your immune system strong.

If you’re looking for ways to prevent colds, the flu, and other infections, your first step should be a visit to your local grocery store. Plan your meals to include these 15 powerful immune system boosters.

1. Citrus fruits

wedges of grapefruit, lime, orange, and lemon on top of a turquoise table

Most people turn straight to vitamin C after they’ve caught a cold. That’s because it helps build up your immune system.

Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells, which are key to fighting infections.

Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. With such a variety to choose from, it’s easy to add a squeeze of this vitamin to any meal.

Popular citrus fruits include:

Because your body doesn’t produce or store it, you need daily vitamin C for continued health. The recommended daily amount for most adults is:

  • 75 mg for women
  • 90 mg for men

If you opt for supplements, avoid taking more than 2,000 milligrams (mg) a day.

Also keep in mind that while vitamin C might help you recover from a cold quicker, there’s no evidence yet that it’s effective against the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

2. Red bell peppers

14 red bell peppers on top of a dark wood table

If you think citrus fruits have the most vitamin C of any fruit or vegetable, think again. Ounce for ounce, red bell peppers contain almost 3 times as much vitamin C (127 mgTrusted Source) as a Florida orange (45 mgTrusted Source). They’re also a rich source of beta carotene.

Besides boosting your immune system, vitamin C may help you maintain healthy skin. Beta carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A, helps keep your eyes and skin healthy.

3. Broccoli

hands holding up a bowl full of broccoli

Broccoli is supercharged with vitamins and minerals. Packed with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as fiber and many other antioxidants, broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your plate.

The key to keeping its power intact is to cook it as little as possible — or better yet, not at all. ResearchTrusted Source has shown that steaming is the best way to keep more nutrients in the food.

4. Garlic

cloves of garlic on a wood table

Garlic is found in almost every cuisine in the world. It adds a little zing to food and it’s a must-have for your health.

Early civilizations recognized its value in fighting infections. Garlic may also slow down hardening of the arteries, and there’s weak evidence that it helps lower blood pressure.

Garlic’s immune-boosting properties seem to come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin.

5. Ginger

slices of ginger on a dark wood table table

Ginger is another ingredient many turn to after getting sick. Ginger may help decrease inflammation, which can help reduce a sore throat and inflammatory illnesses. Ginger may help with nausea as well.

While it’s used in many sweet desserts, ginger packs some heat in the form of gingerol, a relative of capsaicin.

Ginger may also decrease chronic painTrusted Source and might even possess cholesterol-lowering propertiesTrusted Source.

6. Spinach

spinach leaves in a silver pot with a handle

Spinach made our list not just because it’s rich in vitamin C — it’s also packed with numerous antioxidants and beta carotene, which may both increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems.

Similar to broccoli, spinach is healthiest when it’s cooked as little as possible so that it retains its nutrients. However, light cooking makes it easier to absorb the vitamin A and allows other nutrients to be released from oxalic acid, an antinutrient. 

7. Yogurt

yogurt topped with seeds and granola and placed in a small white and blue floral bowl

Look for yogurts that have the phrase “live and active cultures” printed on the label, like Greek yogurt. These cultures may stimulate your immune system to help fight diseases.

Try to get plain yogurts rather than the kind that are flavored and loaded with sugar. You can sweeten plain yogurt yourself with healthy fruits and a drizzle of honey instead.

Yogurt can also be a great source of vitamin D, so try to select brands fortified with this vitamin. Vitamin D helps regulate the immune system and is thought to boost our body’s natural defenses against diseases.

Clinical trials are even in the works to study its possible effects on COVID-19.

8. Almonds

unroasted almonds in a dark-colored bowl on top of beige fabric

When it comes to preventing and fighting off colds, vitamin E tends to take a backseat to vitamin C. However, this powerful antioxidant is key to a healthy immune system.

It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it requires the presence of fat to be absorbed properly. Nuts, such as almonds, are packed with the vitamin and also have healthy fats.

Adults only need about 15 mg of vitamin E each day. A half-cup serving of almonds, which is about 46 whole, shelled almonds, provides around 100 percentTrusted Source of the recommended daily amount.

9. Sunflower seeds

sunflower seeds in a clear jar on top of a turquoise table

Sunflower seeds are full of nutrients, including phosphorousmagnesium, and vitamins B-6 and E.

Vitamin E is important in regulating and maintaining immune system function. Other foods with high amounts of vitamin E include avocados and dark leafy greens.

Sunflower seeds are also incredibly high in selenium. Just 1 ounce contains nearly halfTrusted Source the selenium that the average adult needs daily. A variety of studies, mostly performed on animals, have looked at its potential to combat viral infections such as swine flu (H1N1).

10. Turmeric

turmeric powder, turmeric roots, and turmeric supplements on top of a turquoise and white plate

You may know turmeric as a key ingredient in many curries. This bright yellow, bitter spice has also been used for years as an anti-inflammatory in treating both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

ResearchTrusted Source shows that high concentrations of curcumin, which gives turmeric its distinctive color, can help decrease exercise-induced muscle damage. Curcumin has promise as an immune booster (based on findings from animal studies) and an antiviral. More research is needed.

11. Green tea

loose leaf green tea in a white mug on a wrought iron table

Both green and black teas are packed with flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Where green tea really excels is in its levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), another powerful antioxidant.

In studies, EGCG has been shown to enhance immune function. The fermentation process black tea goes through destroys a lot of the EGCG. Green tea, on the other hand, is steamed and not fermented, so the EGCG is preserved.

Green tea is also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine may aid in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your T cells.

12. Papaya

two large papaya halves on a dark wood table

Papaya is another fruit loaded with vitamin C. You can find doubleTrusted Source the daily recommended amount of vitamin C in a single medium fruit. Papayas also have a digestive enzyme called papain that has anti-inflammatory effects.

Papayas have decent amounts of potassium, magnesium, and folate, all of which are beneficial to your overall health.

13. Kiwi

whole kiwi fruits and two kiwi halves in a metal basket with handles

Like papayas, kiwis are naturally full of a ton of essential nutrients, including folate, potassium, vitamin K, and vitamin C.

Vitamin C boosts the white blood cells to fight infection, while kiwi’s other nutrients keep the rest of your body functioning properly.

14. Poultry

uncooked whole chicken on a metal pan surrounded by salt flakes and a white and blue plaid rag

When you’re sick and you reach for chicken soup, it’s more than just the placebo effect that makes you feel better. The soup may help lower inflammation, which could improve symptoms of a cold.

Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, is high in vitamin B-6. About 3 ounces of light turkey or chicken meat contains nearly one-third of your daily recommended amount of B-6.

Vitamin B-6 is an important player in many of the chemical reactions that happen in the body. It’s also vital to the formation of new and healthy red blood cells.

Stock or broth made by boiling chicken bones contains gelatin, chondroitin, and other nutrients helpful for gut healing and immunity.

15. Shellfish

fresh crab and half of a lemon on a white plate placed on a table

Shellfish isn’t what jumps to mind for many who are trying to boost their immune system, but some types of shellfish are packed with zinc.

Zinc doesn’t get as much attention as many other vitamins and minerals, but our bodies need it so that our immune cells can function as intended.

Varieties of shellfish that are high in zinc include:

  • oysters
  • crab
  • lobster
  • mussels

Keep in mind that you don’t want to have more than the daily recommended amount of zinc in your diet:

  • 11 mg for adult men
  • 8 mg for most adult women

Too much zinc can actually inhibit immune system function.

More ways to prevent infections

Variety is the key to proper nutrition. Eating just one of these foods won’t be enough to help fight off the flu or other infections, even if you eat it constantly. Pay attention to serving sizes and recommended daily intake so that you don’t get too much of a single vitamin and too little of others.

Eating right is a great start, and there are other things you can do to protect you and your family from the flu, cold, and other illnesses.

Start with these flu prevention basics and then read these 7 tips for flu-proofing your home. Perhaps most importantly, get your annual flu vaccine to protect yourself and others.

16 Months in Pictures

Mood: Amazed 😌

As I was looking through my pictures the other day I noticed that I have a picture of myself, taken in most months from when I was diagnosed with breast cancer up to the present time. So I decided to make a collection showing how I looked before breast cancer {the first picture} all the way up to how I look now {the last picture}. You can clearly see when the chemotherapy treatments really started to effect how I looked; the loss of my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, my skin getting dryer and my fine lines showing more.

It’s a given that the last 16 months have been hard on me both mentally and physically.  But, nothing tore me down and damaged me more than the chemotherapy treatments did. Chemotherapy took a part of me that I will never get back. When the chemotherapy treatments were over I realized how much the drugs and the stress of everything I had been through up to that point had aged me, a lot. Looking back through my pictures it’s easy to see how much my face has aged and it breaks my heart. I am doing what I can to undo the damage but it has not been an easy process.

Follow-up with My Surgeon

Mood: Good 😁

I had another follow-up appointment with my surgeon yesterday and I realized that it has already been a month since I had my surgery. It seems like time is flying by, but that is not a bad thing at all.

He took a look at my incisions, said that everything looks great and that I have healed well. I asked him if he could take out my sutures as one of them had been hurting me to the point of needing pain pills after the steri-strips came off over the weekend. So after taking another look he said that he could take them out. I am sore now that they are out and I will be for a few more days, but I am much more comfortable now.

We talked about the pain that has developed on the side of my left breast and he is not sure of the cause. This is an area that we have talked about before because I noticed it after my first surgery and it bothered me as the bulge in the area is noticeable, to me anyway, and it has never gone back to normal size. He actually pointed out the area to me when we were talking in pre-op before my last surgery, and he said that he couldn’t do anything about it that day, but we could look at it later on if it was still an issue. At that point it wasn’t causing me any discomfort or pain so we moved on to the details of the surgery on that day.

He took a look at the area and there isn’t anything out of the ordinary visibly or by touch, considering how many surgeries I have had, that would indicate my being in pain. He did directly touch the area that hurts while examining me and I let him know that it hurt. I asked him questions about the possibilities of what could be causing me pain but nothing made sense. I thought that it might have something to do with this last surgery but he doesn’t think that they are related, just a coincidence. He also doesn’t think that the pain has anything to do with the fact that I had so many lymph nodes removed during my first surgery. He asked me if I have any pain in my upper arm and I said that I don’t, that it is actually still numb from my first surgery.

He can remove the tissue in the area that is bothering me but he can’t guarantee that I will be out of pain once it is removed. He also said that he doesn’t like operating due to pain because he would be essentially doing the surgery blindly as he would be taking out the tissue in the area without actually seeing a problem internally. I have another follow-up appointment in a month so we will see how I am doing by then.

I have to say that I really appreciate the fact that my surgeon takes the time to answer my questions and discusses the details with me so I understand what my options are and what we are talking about. Having a surgeon that genuinely cares about my well-being makes all the difference in my attitude and healing.

 

Happy Weekend!

Mood: Great! 😁

I am having a great weekend with my sweetie! 😁 I am working hard on getting my fatigue to go away and generally feeling better by changing a few things up in my routine.

Tomorrow I am going to get back to my workouts. The last time I saw my surgeon I was restricted to 5lbs and minimal walking. I am still dealing with sutures coming out from my surgery, but it is time for me to work on moving more. I have a follow up appointment with my surgeon on February 12th so I will talk to him about doing more than I am about to start with when I see him.

I am also taking more vitamins than I have before. My oncologist and I do not agree on this subject….he calls it “expensive pee” but says it is my choice. My radiation oncologist specifically told me to eat plenty of protein and take vitamins while I was going through radiation. I told her what I am taking and she said it was awesome, that I have obviously done my research. I have done a lot of research on what specific vitamins block cancer from coming back or growing. Will they help? Maybe, maybe not, but it helps me feel like I am doing all that I can to keep my breast cancer, or any other type of cancer from returning and pushing me into stage 4. I am also taking a few vitamins and supplements to help my hair grow, my finger and toe nails to heal and grow back healthy and my skin to recover from all of the damage the chemotherapy treatments did to my body over the summer. So, I am taking the following vitamins and supplements…..Probiotics, Biotin, Turmeric, Collagen, Vitamin D3, E, K2 & B-Complex. Yes, it is a lot especially when you consider the other meds I take for diabetes and now a hormone blocker to keep the odds of staying cancer free in my favor, but again, I feel that I am doing all I can to keep myself as healthy as possible and that helps me so much mentally.