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Content Overview

In Treatment For Breast Cancer: Day To Day Living



Day to day living during treatment will be easier if you consider the following:

  • Think of the food you eat, the exercise you get, rest/sleep and even proper care of your mouth as steps you can take to make treatments and drugs most effective. 
    • Eat well. If eating is difficult, comfort foods may be easier. 
      • Researchers have found that patients who eat well during their treatment periods are better able to manage the side effects of their treatment. The best bet is simply a balanced diet high in a variety of produce, lots of whole grains, and moderate amounts of fish. For more details, consider the American Cancer Society's recommendations for cancer prevention - modified as recommended by your doctor. You can find Part I of American Cancer Society's recommendations for a cancer prevention diet by clicking here offsite link and Part II by clicking here offsite link.
      • Consider consulting a dietitian to help tailor your diet to your specific situation and treatment.
      • This may be a time when you want to reach for what you think of as your comfort foods - the foods that make you feel better when you're down. Do it occasionally - enough to keep you able to stay with your health regimen. The longer you eat healthy foods, the less likely you'll need unhealthy comfort foods.
      • Ask your doctor the following questions:
        • Are there foods that would be particularly helpful for you to eat during treatment? .
        • Are there are foods or drinks to avoid.
        • Are there vitamins or minerals to start taking that will help you through treatment?
        • Are there books or other sources he or she would recommend that may be helpful to read?
      • Buy, store and cook foods safely. To learn how, see Guidelines For The Safe Handling, Cooking And Storage Of Food
    • When you feel well, cook up a batch of meals and freeze them.
  • Watch your weight.
    • During chemotherapy and radiation it is common for people to lose or gain (yes, gain) weight.
    • Aim for a healthy weight for your height and frame.
    • Focusing on your weight (as well as nutrition and exercise) can help you focus on something other than your breast cancer.
    • If you need help with your weight, speak with your doctor and/or a nutritionist who has experience in helping people who are going through treatment.
  • Exercise the best you can - but don't push your limits. At least exercise the breast area. 
    • It has been shown that exercise helps recovery from treatments. 
    • Exercise does not have to be a hard workout at the gym. 
    • There are exercises you can do lying in bed.
    • Walking is an exercise. Brisk walking is even better. 
    • Ask your doctor what you can and cannot do.
    • If you previously had surgery,  exercise your breast to help you heal properly and regain strength. You can find exercises for the area in Exercises After Breast Surgery. As you will see, the exercises noted are for after surgery. Ask your doctor which ones will work for you.
    • NOTE: Do what you reasonably can to avoid getting an infection during treatment. If you use a gym, take precautions to avoid getting an infection. See How To Avoid Infection In The Gym. (Also see: How To Choose A Gym)
  • Only drink safe water. 
    • Even in the U.S., water may contain bugs that can be a danger if your immune system is low - such as from chemotherapy or radiation.
    • Make sure your local water is safe. If it isn't, take appropriate safety precautions.
  • Get sleep.
    • If you have difficulty sleeping while undergoing treatment, there are tips to help. Click here.
  • Find out from your doctor what vitamins or minerals may be needed to balance vitamins and minerals that may be lost because of your particular treatment.
Make your daily schedule more manageable.
  • Reduce your obligations.
  • Rather than try to keep the same schedule you did before your diagnosis while undergoing treatment,  it is better to slow down a little.
  • Put off things that do not to be done now. (NOTE: This does not include finances or anything to do with your medical care. It is important to keep up with finances in order to keep health insurance in place and to keep your credit rating in case you need cash. To learn more, see: Breast Cancer: Finances. For information about medical care, see: In Treatment For Breast Cancer: Managing Your Medical Care).
  • Ask family and friends to take over chores they can do for you.
  • Be gentle with yourself if you cannot do as many things or as quickly as you did before treatment started.
  • Pushing yourself to the limit is physically and emotionally exhausting.
  • At the same time, do not use breast cancer as an excuse to become a couch potato. Treat yourself as if you are well. Do as much as you can until you can't.
  • Do not beat yourself up if there are days when you can't do anything. It happens.
Do what you can to continue to socialize.
  • Maybe make an appearance for 20 or 30 minutes instead of staying the few hours you normally would.
  • Think ahead of time whether you want to talk about what is going on and if so, what to say. People will tend to take their cue from you about how to react to your diagnosis. Don't be afraid to let them know if you do or do not want to talk about what you are going through.
  • Understand that some people are afraid to speak to you about breast cancer and their reactions may be odd. 
Do not give up on sex.
  • You are permitted to have sex during treatment, though you may not feel like it.

  • In addition to the normal fatigue and lack of interest that may be caused by your treatment, your body and self image have likely been altered due to your breast cancer.

  • Let your spouse or partner know how your feel. Ask your partner to do the same. If it is hard for you to talk to each other about sex or cancer, or both, you may want to talk with a counselor who can help you communicate more openly. 

  • A partner's concerns or fears also can affect the sexual relationship. You and your partner can get information by talking about sexual concerns with your doctor, nurse, or a counselor who can give you the information and the reassurance you and/or your partner may need.

  • Other forms of intimacy, such as cuddling, are a good substitute during this period of time.

  • Note: Even if you are not interested in sex, it couldn’t hurt to let the other person know you still find him or her sexy.

Spouses And Partners Need Your Input

  • Each couple's relationship is affected in unique ways by the stress of a breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and side effects.
  • With cancer in general, future plans are suddenly, unexpectedly, called into question. With the treatment, ways of doing things need to be changed temporarily and perhaps permanently.
  • Intimacy is generally affected.
  • Breast cancer adds to the stress because it affects both the look of your body and your self image.
  • One of the most common side effects of breast cancer treatment, fatigue, is also difficult for couples to deal with. The healthy partner takes over activities and responsibilities you can't do for a while, or perhaps permanently.
  • There is on right or wrong way to handle the situation. The key for successfully getting through is to talk -and keep talking. Cooperative problem solving and mutual support are key.
  • It is not unusual for a relationship to have ups and downs. There may even be small crises. The stress can test a strong relationship and ultimately make it stronger. At the other extreme, it can also be the back breaking straw for a rocky relationship. Keep in mind that you may both have very different ways of coping with crisis. Use the coping skills that have gotten the two of you through in the past.
  • For additional information, see: Couples

Involve family and friends. 

  •  Your team 
    • Start thinking about the people around you as well as part of your team, just as doctors and other professionals are part of your team. Each member can provide his or her knowledge, advice and support.
    • Who is actually involved with you and to what degree is up to you. You don't have to accept help just because it is offered.
    • Likewise, you can set limits on peoples' participation in your experience. For example, only spend time with people who are positive and supportive.
    • Expect that people will let you know when they hear stories about other people with your cancer or who undergo the treatment you are undergoing. This information can be overwhelming and not helpful. Feel free to let people know what you do or do not want them to tell you about what they may find out. Check any information you do learn with your doctor.
    • Do not wait to ask for help until the burden gets too great or you reach a breaking point. You don't need to be superwoman and try to deal with everything you sleepdid before and everything that has come up since your diagnosis. There will be times when you will need help either doing everyday tasks such as grocery shopping or matters directly related to your health such as bathing, accompanying you to doctor appointments or acting as a patient advocate if you enter a hospital. You may feel tired after a treatment and need someone else to take over your chores temporarily.
    • Make a list and divide up the chores and responsibilities that you can't handle right now.
    • If you don't feel like eating your normal amount of food, or even eating at all, ask family members and friends to take turns cooking foods that you are likely to eat. Doing what you can to avoid losing weight during treatment is part of good medical care.  (See "To Learn More.")
    • Consider appointing a person to be an “Organizer” to coordinate family and friends for you. It takes away the burden and makes sure no needs fall through the cracks. It is also helpful to your team members because they can more easily say "no" when they have to.
    • If you need Medicaid (Medi-cal in California) and have too many assets, consider entering into a caregiver contract with a family member or friend. Such a contract is a legal way of reducing your assets. See Caregiver Contracts.
    • To learn more about your team, click here.
  • Think about their needs as well as your own.
    • A diagnosis affects everyone around you. Your needs come first, but theirs should not be ignored.
    • Just as you need to share your emotions, they should keep talking with one another about the emotions which surface because of your diagnosis and treatment. Talking keeps mole hill size difficulties from erupting in to mountain size problems.
    • You can let family and friends know what is happening during your treatment through the Circle of Sharing at the American Cancer Society.
  • Prepare for friends'  reactions
    • Do not be surprised at unexpected reactions from friends. Your treatment likely reminds them of their own mortality.
    • Keep in mind that their reaction has more to do with their needs than with you.
    • The odds are new people are entering your life triggered by your diagnosis and treatment.
  • Relax family rules to fit the situation
    • For example, meals can be eaten on paper plates with throw away plastic utensils. Chores that don't need to be done right away can be postponed.
  • Involve the non-medical professionals in your life
    • Tell the non-medical professionals in your life such as your lawyer, accountant and insurance person about your diagnosis and treatment. They may have suggestions about how it affects specific situations in your life and how to best deal with it.
Do not think you have to go it alone emotionally.
  • Consider joining a support group of women going through a similar situation.
  • In addition to emotional support, support groups and self help groups are a good place to learn practical information.
  • Groups are available in person, on line or on the telephone.
  • You can also consider speaking with a mental health therapist. Even just one session can be helpful.
If you have underage children:
  • Tell your children about what is going on.
    • Children will know something is happening and will likely assume it is their fault if they are not told about your cancer and its treatment.
    • Tell each child in a manner that is appropriate for his or her age and personality. 
    • How to tell children of different ages is described in the article "Children: Telling The News." 
  • Keep a routine.
    • Keep children on a routine as close to the routine they knew before treatment.
    • Warn them if there are changes. 
    • Let them know that changes will be temporary (if they will).
  • Make one-on-one time.
    • It may be difficult to do, but spend as much one-on-one time as you can with each child.
  • Divvy up chores.
    • Give appropriate chores to underage children. It will help them feel like a part of your team and as if they are helping.
  • Monitor your children's behavior. 
    • It is likely that their reaction will show up in behavior instead of words or tears. In addition to watching for changes in behavior yourself, ask your spouse or partner to do the same. Common reactions are described in the document in "To Learn More" below.
  • What to do If your children are in school
    • Make your child's school aware of what is going on. Ask to be contacted if your child's school work begins to suffer or if there is a change in the child's behavior. 
  • Ask children to help in your care.
    • If children participate, they feel needed and involved. It also helps to make the process less scary for them.
    • When giving children chores, make sure they are chores the child can do.  Do not over burden them.
  • Arrange for your children's care.
    • Arrange for their care while undergoing treatment and during recovery as needed.
    • Make plans in case a child has an emergency and you are not there.
    • It is also prudent to make arrangements in case something happens to you and to the child's other parent. 
    • P.S:. If you don't have an up-to-date will, this is a good time to get one. A will does not have to be expensive. It may even be free.  This is a good time to consider keeping control of your health care if you become unable to communicate. The way to do that is through legal documents known as Advance Directives For Health Care. For instance, a Healthcare Power of Attorney is such a document. They are easy to obtain and free.
Keep in mind that travel is possible if properly planned.
  • The risk of getting sick on a trip is intensified by a lower immune system and by the fatigue that can come with treatment. 
  • You can travel safely during chemo or radiation treatment if your doctor permits travel.
  • A good trip starts with planning - which starts with a discussion with your doctor about what you can and cannot do, and places you should avoid.
  • Airlines, trains and boats legally have to accommodate special needs. Let them know what your needs are ahead of time.
  • If your breast has been operated on, flying can trigger lymphedema. On long or frequent flights, wear a compression sleeve. A well-fitted compression sleeve may help prevent swelling by helping to squeeze the lymph fluid through the remaining vessels before it builds up. Careful fitting is required, since any garment that is too tight near the top can actually reduce the lymph flow. Ask your doctor or physical therapist if you should be fitted for a sleeve to wear during air travel. You may also want to discuss ways to safely raise your arm above the level of your heart and exercise it during long flights.
  • Watch what you eat and drink while traveling, even in the United States - especially in third world countries.
  • Consider getting travel insurance in case you end up not being able to go or have to abort the trip for health reasons. Look for a policy that does not have an exclusion for pre-existing health conditions. For information, see: Travel Insurance Post Diagnosis.
  • For additional information, see: Travel 101
If needed:
  • Help is available to go from place to place -such as to the treatment center or to the doctor's office.
    • Driving
      • Check each of your drugs to find out whether it is okay to drive while taking them. 
      • Check drug interactions as well as the characteristics of each drug. A combination may make driving hazardous.
      • If you have a question, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
    • If you are having difficulty walking:
      • You may be able to get a temporary disability parking sticker allowing you to park close to your destination. In most states, it is easy to apply for and receive a Handicapped parking permit which allows you to park close to entrances.
      • In most areas, you do not need to be a driver or a registered owner of a vehicle to get a permit.
      • Contact your state's Department of Motor Vehicles to determine:
        • Eligibility requirements
        • What you need to verify eligibility (such as a letter from your doctor)
        • How often you have to prove eligibility or otherwise renew the permit
        • The cost of the permit.
      • You can find contact information for your state's Department of Motor Vehicles at offsite link
      • NOTE: If you do not appear to be physically handicapped, prepare an answer in case an obnoxious person questions why you park in a Handicapped parking space when you look healthy.
      • See: Parking Permit
    • If you are having difficulty driving:
      • See if family members, friends and/or neighbors can help.
      • Check with the American Cancer Society to see if their volunteers are available. The more notice, the more likely American Cancer Society can find you a ride. Call 800.ACS.2345
    • Public Transportation   
      • There may be public transportation available - including transportation that picks you up at your door and takes you to your destination. For more information, see Transportation
  • Home health care is available.
    • You can either hire an agency or hire home care aides yourself. For information, see below.
Buy, use and store drugs wisely. See: Drugs: How To Save Money When Buying Or Using, Drugs 101

Do what you can to keep your home and work place clean and to make them into a healing environment.
  • Get help if needed to keep your home clean.

    • Consider what arrangements, if any, need to be made at home because of your treatment. For instance, in rare instances chemotherapy may make it difficult to take care of the house or possibly yourself. Home care is available – and may even be paid for by your health insurance.

    • House cleaning is available for a limited number of women who are in treatment for breast cancer through an organization known as Cleaning For A Reason. To learn more, and to apply, see: offsite link

    • Before you have outside help come into your home, put away all valuables, credit cards, checks and cash even if the person comes from an agency with an honesty bond.

  • Try to make your home into a healing enviornment.

    • The environment in which you live can affect your emotions. Look around you. Is your home environment peaceful and conducive to healing and healthy life? 

    • If the environment is not healing, do what you can to change it. For instance, repaint walls to restful colors. If this is too much effort now, keep it in mind once things settle down after treatment.

    • If the environment is unsafe for your health, do what you can to eliminate the risk.

    • For more information on these subjects, see Healing Environment.

If you have a pet
  • As you are already likely aware, pets are good for you. However, they can also be dangerous to your health while you are in treatment and have a lowered immune system. 
  • Ask someone else to take over the chores that could be risky for you. For instance, if you have a cat, ask someone else to change the litter box.
  • Learn about the dangers, if any, from your pet and how to minimize them. See Pets 101

If You Do Not Have A Pet

  • Consider getting one. It doesn't have to be a dog or a cat to have beneficial effects on your mental and physical health. It also doesn't have to be long term. For instance, you can be a foster home to a pet in a shelter.
  • For more information about pets and your health, see Pets 101.
Do what you need to do to take care of yourself.
  • Get rest
  • Do what you can to minimize stress. For information, including techniques for reducing stress, click here.
  • If you need alone time, take it.  (Don't use the need for alone time as an excuse not to socialize.)
  • If you need to splurge a little, and you can do it without breaking the bank. do it.
  • If you don't want to do a chore today, and it's not critical, it is okay to put it off.
    • Don't put chores off to the point where they become a problem. 
    • Don't put off paying your bills. (If money is tight, see: Financial Crunch And How To Deal With It)
    • If you need help doing chores while undergoing treatment, ask for it.  You can even hire a professional if necessary.

Carry A List Of Medications And A Vomit Bag "Just In Case"

  • List of Medications
    • As you will see in our information about medical care, it is advisable to carry a list of your medications with you at all time. “Shit happens” and we never know when that will be.
    • Emergency personnel should know about your diagnosis, treatment and the drugs you are taking.
    • For a list you can use, click here
  • Nausea
    • It is not unusual for women to regurgitate (vomit) during treatment. The need can come on quite unexpectedly.
    • "Just in case," carry a vomit bag with you 24/7.  A gallon size plastic baggie will do. If you want more elegant solutions, consider the following ideas:

For additional information see:

NOTE: Proper day to day living while under treatment includes the following subjects, each of which are discussed in other sections of this site:

To Learn More

More Information

Drugs 101: An Overview

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