Society likes to talk a lot about self-care: which often translates to a box of chocolates, a bubble bath, and perhaps a glass of wine. I had the privilege of being a guest writer on ImTakingCharge.com last week. I take the idea of breast cancer self-care (and all self-care) to a higher level–beginning with the language in which we talk to ourselves. Perfectionists, self-critics, and those of us who tend to ignore ourselves a lot, this article is for you! Thanks to ImTakingCharge.com for allowing me to share this article with you today
Five years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer (triple negative). I discovered the lump during a breast exam and went to the doctor the next day. You know the routine — mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. Ten days later I had a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation. It was a rough road, much harder than I thought it would be, but I did it! I was so happy to be done with treatment, and back to reclaiming my life.
Four days after finishing radiation I noticed I couldn’t take a deep breath. I went to the doctor the next day. At first, they thought I had pneumonia, and put me on antibiotics. This didn’t help, and after some tests my new lung doctor told me I had developed pulmonary fibrosis, a terminal lung disease, as a rare side effect from the chemo and radiation I’d received for breast cancer. Life expectancy for this disease is three to five years.
The great news is that it’s been four years since then, and although my disease has worsened, I’m still here and determined to live the life I have left to the fullest. I also want to help otherswho are dealing with a health crisis.
Breast Cancer Self-Care Reality: We’re on a Rough Road
This is such a rough road, and it’s one none of us have walked before. So much changes when we are going through a health crisis. We’re shocked, overwhelmed, and terrified. In a moment, our world changed, our future changed, and our loved ones’ future changed.
I’m a fellow traveler on this road with you. Being a good friend to yourself on this unwanted journey makes it a little easier. I’d love to help you learn how to do this, because as a marriage and family therapist, I’ve been teaching others to develop a compassionate relationship with themselves for 30 years.
I want you to know that you matter. Yes, you heard me…you matter. Your life matters, what you are going through matters, and how you are doing matters. You are valuable and of great worth. I know being diagnosed with breast cancer is devastating and going through the treatment is even worse. I know you’re discouraged, and you may even be thinking of giving up. You’ve already been through so much pain, suffering, and confusion. I know you’re scared about treatment, survival, reoccurrence, changes to your body and possible harm to your heart and/or lungs. All of this may seem like it’s too much, more than you can handle. I know, because I feel that way sometimes too.
Be a Graceful Friend to Yourself
You need to be a good friend to yourself right now. I know how important this is. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, I first cried and then said to myself, “I’m going to be a good friend to myself through this process.” I said this again one year later when I was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis.
You may feel tempted to abandon yourself right now, but this is when you need yourself the most—as a gentle advocate and encourager. If you don’t know how, you can learn. You may not be able to summon up the words or energy right now. That’s okay, you are caring for yourself right now just by reading this. Here’s how to start being a kind and compassionate friend to yourself.
Decide to Treat Yourself with Compassion and Care
Diagnosis, treatment and post-treatment is stressful, scary, painful and disruptive, to say the least. How we treat ourselves and care for ourselves while we are on this road makes a huge positive difference in our lives. Turning toward ourselves with care, compassion, and grace, honors ourselves and what we are going through, and makes this road a bit easier. Even though it can be a challenge, we need to make it a priority to take care of ourselves. When we don’t care for ourselves during crises, our systems break down and we end up in even worse shape.
Learning to be a compassionate and supportive friend to ourselves in the midst of this battle is critical. Approaching ourselves with kindness, caring, empathy, and understanding will help us get through these tough times. As we relate to ourselves in warm and gracious ways, we will be able to tolerate and process the ever-changing feelings and experiences that come with battling such a serious disease.
Self-compassion helps in these situations because it builds resilience—the internal flexibility to rebound and recover from painful, disappointing, and devastating times. Why is this? Because there is a world of difference between going through a difficult time while ignoring or beating yourself up and going through that same difficult time while being compassionate and understanding with yourself.
Kind Words to Say to Yourself
Part of being a good friend to yourself is to kindly acknowledge to yourself what you are going through. Maybe like this…
This is hard, I can’t believe this is happening. I don’t want to have breast cancer and go through all the treatments. I’m scared, heartbroken, overwhelmed, and don’t know what to do. What about how this is affecting my spouse, kids, grandkids, parents, and friends? It’s all too much to think about. This is really, really hard. I think for now I will be kind to myself, no matter what I’m thinking or feeling. I want to be a good friend to myself as I go through each step of this unwanted journey.
Going through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation is so painful and scary. Sometimes it’s all I can do to survive the next step and the next moment. This is normal. I’m not going to get down on myself for struggling or for being afraid. I’ve never been through this before and I don’t need to do this perfectly. I will do what I can to make each step a little bit easier.
There’s so much to learn and understand about my disease and the types of treatments. I wish I didn’t have to learn about all of this. I not going to expect myself to know everything and make all the right decisions. It’s normal to be discouraged, exhausted and feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not going to be mean to myself for mistakes I make, or for not being able to do what I used to. The reality is that I am brave, courageous and am fighting an enormous battle. I’m going to make being kind and compassionate to myself a top priority, starting right now. I’ll allow myself time to recover in whatever ways that work for me. I don’t have to follow anyone else’s plan. I’m going to notice what things are helping breathe new life into me and keep doing those.
What’s it like to talk to yourself this way? It may be a new way to relate to yourself, but don’t worry, you can learn. What you need right now is kindness and compassion, not harshness. Try to start talking to yourself in compassionate ways.
Self-Compassion Softens Reality
I know reality is hard. I know that sometimes you can barely peek at your reality for long, while other times it’s all you think of. I wish this wasn’t so for you. There is so much we can’t control, but we can control interacting with ourselves with grace, truth, kindness, and compassion. I urge you to treat yourself kindly, offering yourself the care and compassion you would freely give to a good friend who was struggling. Allow God to bless you through the support of others. Talk to yourself kindly as you walk this road imperfectly and find ways to soothe and calm yourself when you’re distressed.
You are precious, you are valuable, and you are scared, hurting, and brave. You’re not alone in this battle. Let’s walk together as we treat ourselves with compassion and kindness for the road ahead. I’m glad we’re in this together.
I’d Love to Hear from You
How did your heart respond to this post? Are there non-breast cancer struggles you are going through that self-compassion can help you with? Is there someone you know that this blog post could really help? If so, please share with them.
Please leave a comment below and share with those who could benefit via e-mail or on social media.
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This post was first shared on 6/27/18 on https://imtakingcharge.com/breast-cancer-self-care/
I’m Taking Charge’s mission is to empower every woman to take back the things breast cancer stole from her: her sense of choice over her body, her comfort in her own skin, and her ownership of her post-cancer body. They are a team of writers, physicians, and survivors who believe the women that are faced with a breast cancer diagnosis should be empowered with the information to make long-term decisions for both their health and their comfort.