This entry was written by one of our volunteers:
If I could do it all over again, (not that I would!) here are some things I wish I had known before going through breast cancer treatment. I hope these are helpful.
• Side effects won’t last.
There were times when I was hit hard by the unpleasant side effects, and it seemed as if I would feel that way forever. But I didn’t. To the extent that I was able, I distracted myself by trying to focus on something outside: TV, reading, visiting.
• Accept help from people who want to help.
In some ways I tend to be an independent person. My mother told me the first words I spoke were “Do it myself!” So during treatment I tended to tell people I was doing OK when they offered to help. But then I learned that, when I did let others do something for me, it made them feel great and it did help me, too!
• Give yourself time – if you need to rest, rest.
The surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, going to see doctors, getting tests – all of that took a lot out of me! I tried to keep up with everything I had planned, but guess what? It was too much. I needed to plan for time to rest.
• Be nice to the people who are taking care of you.
What a great group of people they have giving treatment. I imagine that some people who endure weeks of radiation and months of chemotherapy can get very grumpy with the nurses, technicians and other staff who administer the treatment. Early on I realized that these incredible people were helping to save my life. I was so grateful to them and let them know it often. Looking back on it, I realize they probably would have been just as nice to me even if I had been grumpy. Common sense tells me that their time with me was a lot more pleasant because I made the effort to be pleasant to them and to show my appreciation of how well they were taking care of me.
• You have to be your own “case manager.”
It turns out that the process of getting treatment for breast cancer can get very complicated. There’s so much going on and someone has to keep track of all of it. I learned that lesson about halfway through chemotherapy. A clerical person called me to change an appointment because my oncologist had to go out of town that day. During the phone conversation I realized that I could probably go get treatment even if he was not there. So I asked. And yes, I kept the appointment. Someone else saw me that day and I did not have to postpone or interrupt my treatment schedule.
• Treatment is easier when you know what to expect.
Going at the beginning of radiation and chemotherapy was strange and different. After a few times it got more familiar. I now recommend that people facing treatment ask others who have had it what their experience was like. Remember the old saying: “Be Prepared!”
• Plan for something pleasant to do after treatment and after the side effects diminish.
When I realized I had to get radiation every single day for more than 6 weeks, it seemed like a big chunk of my valuable time. I resented it. But then I decided to find something to enjoy. After each treatment I took a little walk and explored the area around the hospital. I made such interesting discoveries! With chemotherapy, I had to wait for the side effects to lessen before I could consider a treat. But I managed to find something pleasant each cycle. Once I figured that out, it gave me something to look forward to and helped me tolerate the yucky times.
If you have any questions about treatment or need to talk to another breast cancer survivor, call our Survivors’ Helpline at (888) 753-5222. Trained volunteers, who are all breast cancer survivors, are waiting to talk to you. Take advantage of this resource.
Do you have any other tips or suggestions to add for women going through treatment? Leave a comment below!