There were many things that helped make cancer treatment easier. So many that I have a blog of 30 things that I shared not long after completing treatment. But I know it’s also nice to have a short list of things that helped with breast cancer treatment. Easy to read and digest. To quickly take the things you need. Fast and unobstructed.
I’m in my fourth year of surviving and thriving after a Stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis. Who knows what is the exact thing that made that possible? I believe that it’s never just one thing, but a collection of things that bring forth a healthy future. As I look back, here are the top 5 things that made the journey easier. My intention in creating this blog and this space for Grace and Ease is to share what worked for me in hopes that it might help you.
5 Things that Helped Me Through Breast Cancer Treatment
#1 – A Second Opinion
It’s been four years and a few months since I was diagnosed. When the process of diagnosis and treatment started, I felt overwhelmed. I was in disbelief. There seemed to be no playbook on what to do and how to approach the process. But I’m a quick learner and decided I would be open to the information that came my way.
That’s when a family friend said, “Talk to our friend, an oncologist at Johns Hopkins.” I made the call. The most important bit of info from our talk was a simple question he asked, “Where did you get your second opinion?” At that point, I hadn’t gotten a second opinion. My doctor was written up in a Time’s 100 article. Why should I question her opinion? I’m so glad I did.
I soon met the new doctor. Her recommendation was a more aggressive treatment protocol. As I talked to people and thought about what was right for me, I chose her course. I was young at the time (45 at diagnosis) and had heard that I should be as aggressive as I could to prevent recurrence.
Having another medical opinion showed me a more aggressive path and one I hope leads to longevity. It also made me realize that if I didn’t like my doctor, which I didn’t, I could find someone who was a better fit. I’m so grateful I was open to expert advice and took action to get that second opinion.
[If you want more info on how to get a second opinion, please leave a comment below. We’ll get back with some helpful tips.]
#2 – My Talisman
What is a talisman? Webster’s says it’s an object that brings good luck and is often inscribed. To me it’s that and more.
Before chemotherapy I stumbled upon an Oprah episode called “Where are they now?” It looked back at Oprah’s first interview with a breast cancer patient. In the segment the patient shared she held onto a key chain with a picture of her family when getting chemo. She said it reminded her why she was going through treatment. I didn’t completely understand at the time why she would need a reminder. But once I started my own 5-month course of chemo, I realized there would be moments where I felt it would be much easier to die then to go through treatment. That’s where my talisman came in.
My husband and daughter surprised me with a “mantra medallion” that carried our birthstones and the symbol of the lotus. It reminded me of family, the reason to live and that yes, this was hard, but it will be over. I wore that necklace to every doctor’s appointment and treatment. I rubbed it as I listened to the difficult to hear statistics. I held it as I waited for chemo. It was my touchstone.
I share this with you because as I’ve talked to many cancer survivors, similar stories emerged. An angel statue in someone’s pocket. A rose quartz crystal held in a hand. A portable altar with images of hope. It’s true that everyone’s cancer journey is different. But one thing I’ve seen is that everyone needs reminders of hope, inspiration, and love. That’s what my talisman became for me.
[I’ve used my husband’s design and created a similar necklace, the Mantra Medallion. It has the same lotus with an inscription that reads, Grace & Ease, so you can carry grace and ease wherever you go.]
#3 – Green Juice
I’ve been in the process of interviewing cancer survivors to understand how their journey unfolded and what helped them on their way. Almost always nutrition comes up as a point of focus and self-care. In fact, two survivors I spoke with recently were so inspired by their health and healing journeys they became nutritionists. It’s no surprise this was a focus for me too.
On the one hand, it seems basic to understand that the food that I put in my body effects my body. And yet, before the cancer diagnosis this was not a focus for me. But once the diagnosis and treatment protocol solidified, I looked for ways to help my body. Food seemed one of the most influential and simple steps to take. I dusted off the juicer that was unused in our cabinet, a relic from a cleanse my husband did 10 years ago. I put that thing to good use concocting all kinds of juice recipes. But there was one that I used here that I still use today. It’s full of green goodness. I swear my body gushed good vibes when I drank this. That may sound new age, hippish but here’s my proof. I was the only one I knew who did not get radiation burns. And you know what, I did a hell of a lot of radiation. 6 weeks plus 2 or 3 more days. Can I attribute everything to green juice? No. But here are the things that it gave me…
A sense of control in an uncontrollable situation.
A ritual of self-care that I looked forward to.
Nutrient dense food that my body needed while I endured medications to kill the cancer.
The other thing that probably helped is the next thing on my list.
[You can see my favorite green juice recipe here or if that’s not possible to make, I use Green Vibrance when traveling or when I just feel too lazy to wash and juice all those veggies 😉 . See below for link ]
#4 – Organic Coconut Oil
One focus for me during breast cancer treatment was keeping the chemical burden of my body low since I was pumping it with chemo, radiation, and medications. Before cancer treatment, I didn’t take medication. This new normal forced me to think about all the things I was putting in and, on my body. Because I’ve worked in consumer products, I knew that my body lotion could be a hindrance or a help in keeping my chemical exposure low. That’s when I found pure, virgin organic coconut oil.
I remember reading an article about Carrie Underwood, the singer. She said she uses coconut oil for her face when she’s on tour. Since it’s in almost every grocery store, it’s readily available, affordable and moisturizes. I used it every day sometimes multiple times a day. On my bald head during chemo. On my radiated chest during radiation. And every where else. This is a habit that I’ve continued into survivorship. Like I said above, almost every woman I spoke with during radiation had radiation burns. I think using the coconut oil, along with green juice and copious amounts of water helped to save my skin.
In prepping to write this post, I researched why coconut oil might be so healing. If it’s a great quality and virgin, it contains Lauric acid in the fatty acids of the oil. The Lauric acid is known to have antimicrobial benefits when ingested. And though I couldn’t find studies supporting this for topical applications, it couldn’t hurt?
[Remember, I’m no doctor. All the suggestions given in this blog are from my own experience and are not scientifically proven. Please consult with your medical team and intuition when making decision about your care. Since I started using virgin coconut oil, it now comes in a squeezable pouch. Ease to use. See below.]
#5 – Numbing My Port
Interestingly enough, the steps to take to numb your port are the most read piece of content on Grace and Ease. It’s easy to see why. Doing this before every infusion made accessing my port virtually pain free. The thing is, I never would have known about this unless a friend on Facebook messaged me.
It’s not that my care team wasn’t top notch. It’s just that in our modern medical system time is of the essence and seeing as many patients is the norm. Helpful information can slip through the cracks. As soon as someone told me about this helpful hint, I broached it with my Physicians Assistant. She immediately put in a prescription for the lidocaine cream that would make this all possible. It’s just knowing that you need to ask that’s important. Your medical team should also instruct you on how to apply, but I also have my step by step guide here.
Remember, I’m no physician. I’m sharing what has worked for me in hopes that it will help you just like it was done for me.
Grace and Ease is meant to be a space whereby sharing the collective wisdom of survivors we can make the cancer treatment journey easier for others. It’s a tribe we did not want to join, but now that we’re survivors, we want to give back in a practical way to help ease the cancer treatment journey. If you have more tips you’d like to share, please post in the comments below or contact us with your insights. We want to keep growing this tribe of survivors.