Finding Support During Chemotherapy

Finding support during chemotherapy

Chemotherapy treatment can be the most challenging time of your life, but you aren’t alone: here are tips for finding support during chemotherapy.

There is nothing quite like hearing a cancer diagnosis. The threat of mortality, the lost possibilities, and a future filled with uncertainty are aspects that no one can ignore. Yet, we constantly see images of the stoic cancer patient in media. These characters that just sit there, somehow totally at peace with their diagnosis, are not something that you have to aspire to be. You are allowed to be scared. You are allowed to be angry. These are all normal emotions that you should feel. However, it is possible to let them consume you, which could harm your chances of reaching a full recovery.

The Complications of Chemo

Learning to recognize your negative emotions without letting them take over your life is hard enough. Chemotherapy adds an additional challenge. Depending on the type of chemotherapy and the dosage, personal experiences can vary. You might feel nauseated or fatigued. You could lose your hair or develop mouth sores. Many patients have vomiting and diarrhea. The more severe symptoms usually resolve in the first week or so after treatment, but you may still experience fatigue and some nausea 6-12 months after your treatment is complete.

These symptoms make it far more difficult to maintain your mental health, contributing to higher cases of depression in cancer patients. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be one of them. By learning to cope with chemotherapy, both mentally and physically, you can maintain a sense of control when you need it most. To get started, you’ll need to build a team of people around you. No one should ever have to fight cancer alone, so you’ll need people in your corner.

The Health Experts

Be open with the medical staff at Breast Health Institute Houston. Dr. Darlene Miltenburg is an top breast cancer surgeon in Houston and has years of experience working with cancer patients. If you are feeling overwhelmed, your doctor needs to know. From there, they can help you find the care you need, whether physical or mental.

The Support Group

One way to start finding support during chemotherapy is support groups. Support groups aren’t for everyone, but there are so many different versions now that you may find something that works for you. Support groups aren’t just for sharing how you feel. It’s an important space where you don’t have to feel alone, where your experiences are validated. It is also a space where other patients can share tips to make chemotherapy more palatable. Some women suggest carrying mints at all times. They help stimulate saliva production, preventing dry mouth, something your doctor might not always think to tell you because it’s so common sense to them at this point.

The Family

Whether your family was created by blood or by choice, having family around is the best way to cope with chemotherapy. You will want to prepare for at least a week of possible downtime after each treatment, more if you are older or have health complications. Ask family members to help you meal-prep ahead of time and make arrangements for someone to help you with transport when necessary. There is nothing wrong with leaning on your family during one of the most difficult parts of your life.

The Organizations

Did you know there are entire organizations dedicated to making life easier for cancer patients? The truth is that there are dozens. Cleaning for a Reason can help you have a professional clean your home while you undergo treatment. It may sound trivial at first, but it makes a huge difference, especially if you have children or pets in the home. Don’t be afraid to ask about local organizations at your support group and get the help you need.

Beyond Chemo

There are dozens of tips and tricks to making chemotherapy more bearable, but at the end of the day it is the network of professionals and friends you surround yourself with that will make the greatest difference. Finding support during chemotherapy is one of the best choices you can make.

Everything You Need to Know About Breast Cancer Support Groups

Breast cancer support groups can provide emotional support during trying tims

There is never a convenient time for a cancer diagnosis. Regardless of your financial position and familial support, breast cancer is disruptive and destructive, with a multitude of associated costs. The team at Breast Health Institute Houston does everything in its power to ensure all patients receive the care and support they need, but it is okay to need more. One way is through breast cancer support groups.

Whether you’re concerned about medical bills, child care, or just need emotional support, there are resources that you can use to bring more stability to your everyday life. Although there are big national names like Cancer Care, the Pink Fund, and the Breast Cancer Charities of America, you can also find many local resources to help you build a much-needed community.

The Necessity of Support

Professional group leaders and fellow cancer patients/survivors can aid you in the fight against isolation that haunts so many cancer patients. When friends and family don’t know what to say or how to help, you may need other people who have shared your experience to step in.

In finding a community that understands, you open yourself up to opportunities to re-build and reconnect with those who may have taken a step back during one of the most trying parts of your life.

There is no shame in needing help. We are a naturally social species that relies on community for every aspect of life. However, everyone approaches cancer differently, so you will need to identify what kind of support group is right for you. Here are a few factors to consider.

What is their Focus?

Education

If you are the kind of person who feels that being informed allows you to feel more control over your situation, then an educationally-centered group may be what is right for you. These kinds of support groups are usually led by professionals with medical experience, allowing for an open discussion of the science and medicine behind your treatment plan. These groups also center the lived experience by encouraging current patients and survivors to share what treatment was like for them to help prepare and support others in the group.

Emotional Support

The emotional toll associated with breast cancer is one of the most carefully studied phenomena in the field. There is no denying that breast cancer patients experience emotional trauma that puts their mental health at risk. If, for any reason, you feel that you are not receiving enough emotional support, use the national resources listed above and your oncologist to find local support groups that focus on emotional health.

What Commitments are Required?

Open Membership

These breast cancer support groups don’t require you to commit to a set number of meetings. If you’re unsure about whether group sessions are for you, then this may be a good place to start. However, it may be more challenging to form a consistent community, as people rotate in and out as they please.

Closed Membership

If you need consistency, then a closed group may work better. Once a set number of people register, the group sessions begin. You commit to attending a certain number of sessions, and the people in your group remain the same from beginning to end. If you feel you need someone to hold you accountable for attending, closed groups may work for you.

Who Leads the Group?

Professionals

In these cases, a professional psychologist or social worker will lead the group. They use scientifically proven exercises to help members reconnect and re-establish control in their lives. Given their training, it may be best for patients who are experiencing feelings of anger, resentment, and loss to seek out a support group with a professional lead.

Survivors

No one understands the reality of cancer quite like a survivor. So, it is no surprise that many patients prefer to attend breast cancer support groups led by people who have experienced cancer themselves. These groups are fully capable of providing advice on how to deal with cancer in the everyday. However, these are not medical professionals, so you should maintain a constant dialog with your medical team.

How Do They Meet?

In Person

For many cancer patients and survivors, existing in the same physical space as people who understand is an important part of the healing process. These meetings typically take place at set times over the week.

Online

In-person meetings aren’t practical for everyone, though. If you work an unusual shift or simply don’t have time for yet another commitment, online groups like What Next can provide real-time answers from fellow cancer patients and survivors.

No matter what works for you, remember that you aren’t alone. The people around you may care and want to help, but it is okay to feel that it isn’t enough. It is okay to need to talk to people who have experienced the same difficulties and traumas that you have. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

What to Expect After a Mastectomy

Life after a mastectomy

Whether your mastectomy is preventative or a response to a positive cancer diagnosis, the honest truth is that this surgery is incredibly hard on most women. Those of us who have watched our mothers, aunts, sisters, etc. undergo a mastectomy already have some idea of how physically and emotionally draining this particular surgery can be. However, a second-hand experience is ultimately removed from the actual experience.

In preparation for your procedure, Dr. Darlene M. Miltenburg at Breast Health Institute Houston will have already spoken to you about post-surgical care. What she may not have spoken to you about yet is the mental and emotional toll that this procedure often takes on women, so let us take a few minutes to discuss your physical and your mental health post-mastectomy.

The Physical Toll

This topic receives a lot of coverage, mostly because many patients appear to initially assume that their surgeon is overly cautious. Erika Archer Lewis attacks this concept in no uncertain terms. Her article, “5 Tips from my Mastectomy Experience,” describes the recovery period as a rollercoaster. She notes that at about three weeks after surgery, she was feeling well and decided to ignore her surgeon’s warning to take a full six weeks off. Hours later, her back and shoulders went into spasm, completely incapacitating her. It’s a lesson that she urges all other women to learn from.

Whether or not you start to feel better, it is imperative that you listen to your surgeon’s specific instructions. These may vary depending on the type of mastectomy you are receiving or the amount of tissue being removed, but their expertise should be respected if you want to give your body the best chance at healing.

Yes, this will generally mean that you will need to call in every favor you’ve amassed. You will need to rely on your partner, your family, and your friends for everything from child care to cleaning to meal preparation, and there is nothing wrong with that. At this moment in your life, the only thing you should be focusing on is healing.

The Mental Toll

Unfortunately, focusing on healing can be difficult after having a mastectomy. So much has changed. You are suddenly utterly reliant on other people. Your body is unrecognizable. In a sense, you’re experiencing grief. Grief over a part of your body that you assumed would always be there.

Sure, from the outside, it is easy to say, “they’re just breasts,” but, in reality, your self-image has been partially erased. You can’t even hug someone without pain. My own mother cried for months every time one of her young children tried to lay their heads on her chest. There was no tissue, nothing to cushion the weight of her child against her ribs.

Experiencing grief is normal. You have to give yourself the space to process your loss before you move on. Fortunately, there are things you can do to give yourself a boost and maintain a sense of normalcy after your surgery.

Communication

First, if you’re in a romantic relationship, then you need to discuss boundaries with your partner post-surgery. Given that you will be healing for up to two months, it is easy to lose that easy, sexual intimacy you had before, especially if you’re feeling self-conscious. Don’t be afraid to talk to your partner about how you’re feeling. Without open communication, you may both end up feeling unwanted, leading to a serious rift in your relationship.

Restock

Second, once your recovery period is over, go shopping. Live Better with Cancer has a great blog devoted to what you should wear during your recovery period. But afterwards, it is going to be essential to pick out a few items that you feel attractive in. Picking out delicate lingerie is a great start. Aim for items that will cover your scars and allow you to feel beautiful again. Silky camisoles usually do the trick. It sounds vain, but it is vital to rebuild your self-image after surgery.

Help is Available

Positive sexuality and self-image are important to a lot of people. Still, the ultimate goal after a mastectomy is to make sure that your relationships stay healthy and you don’t lose any feeling of self-worth. If you’re struggling to cope or are experiencing feelings of worthlessness, then please contact your surgeon. Their offices will be able to connect you with local support groups and therapists.

If you begin to experience suicide ideation, then please call the National Suicide Prevention Line. Although relatively few breast cancer patients commit suicide, they are 37% more likely to do so than the general population. Any symptoms of depression should be taken seriously, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Coping with Chemo: What to Expect and How to Handle it

Bald woman sitting on yoga mat happy

A breast cancer diagnosis is a life-changing experience. There’s no denying that simple fact. To do otherwise would ignore everything your body has meant to you. Imminent surgery is already a lot to handle. You will have to decide with your doctor how you want to approach it. You can maintain a level of control in regard to your decision of when or if to have reconstructive surgery; however, when it comes to chemotherapy, control can often seem out of reach. This can make coping with chemotherapy very difficult.

Continue reading “Coping with Chemo: What to Expect and How to Handle it”

Tackling the Psychological Effects of Breast Cancer

Daughter hugging cancer survivor mother helping with breast cancer depression

It is never easy to receive a cancer diagnosis. Everyone responds differently. Some treat it as a call to action, immediately scheduling and researching everything they possibly can. Others freeze for a moment, unable to fully process what just occurred. Regardless of the manner in which you respond to your cancer diagnosis, there is one consideration that is almost unique to breast cancer, the fact that your body will never look the same again. Breast cancer depression is very real, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps to counter it.

Continue reading “Tackling the Psychological Effects of Breast Cancer”

Taking Control with Breast Cancer Fighting Foods

Pink ribbon on dining table for breast cancer fighting foods

We all worry about what we’re putting in our bodies. However, the rush of daily life so often gets in the way. However, when it comes to cancer, patients must engage with these decisions in a whole new way. It’s no longer a question of a healthy weight or ultimate longevity in the far-off future. When you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, your diet becomes one of the few fighting tools you still have control over. Let’s take a look at some of the most effective breast cancer fighting foods.

Continue reading “Taking Control with Breast Cancer Fighting Foods”

Feeling Beautiful with Breast Cancer

breast cancer surgeon in Houston

A diagnosis of breast cancer means many changes to the body you know and love. Working with your breast cancer surgeon in Houston through each stage of treatment and recovery, you must learn to adjust to new changes in your appearance. Many of these changes will be temporary; some will be permanent. During this time of upheaval, taking time to appreciate your beauty as it is not only comforting but can positively impact your health and well-being.

Continue reading “Feeling Beautiful with Breast Cancer”

Coping with Breast Cancer

Coping With Breast Cancer

Being diagnosed with breast cancer can spark a range of emotional reactions: fear, sadness, shock, anger, anxiety. Learning to cope with these emotions and feelings can feel impossible at times, but you are capable of much more than you realize.

From diagnosis to recovery, having a support system, whether that be your family, your friends, or a support group, is integral as you go through treatments and beyond. Coping with breast cancer may sometime feel like an incredible hurdle, but it is one you can surely overcome with the right information and support. For more support and medical expertise, contact the best breast cancer doctor in Houston, Dr. Miltenburg today.

You are not Alone

Feeling overwhelmed during your diagnosis or treatment is incredibly common, so you do not need to feel like you are alone. You absolutely are not. Depression, anxiety, fear, and sadness are not only common, they are normal. It is normal to feel these feelings during uncertain times, and a health scare can shake even the steadiest of grounds.

Issues like this can also come up after treatment. Fear of cancer returning, acknowledgement of the effects your cancer experience has had on your family, friends, and career, or a newfound perspective on your life and relationships can all contribute to continued or exacerbated fears, anxiety, or sadness. Financial concerns, unexpected issues, and many other factors may make you anxious.

For many women, particularly young women, the change in appearance or sexuality might trigger a very stressful reaction. Some who still plan to have a family or have more children might worry about how their cancer might affect their family planning, and some with existing families might worry about how this experience may have affected them. For some, the treatments and chemotherapy might trigger early menopause, which can also cause stress.

When you feel that you are standing on shaky ground, reaching out for the support of your family, friends or others is something we highly encourage you to do. Whether you find these people on your family tree, through your church, or through your hospital, it is important to find them. Not only are all of these reactions completely normal, but they are expected. This is also a time where you could, and should, reach out to the support system you built during your treatment.

The Importance of Finding Support

A vast majority of current or former cancer patients benefit greatly from the assistance and ability to lean on and rely on their support system, whether that be a group of family members, friends, coworkers, hospital staff, religious group members, or anyone else. Some cancer patients feel more comfortable in peer-support groups, online support groups, or educational groups. Some prefer one-on-one with a counselor, some prefer talking to a lifelong friend. Luckily, all of these options are readily available.

These groups can provide strength, comfort, and perspective for you. Each person prefers a different source of strength and comfort and deciding which of these would make you most comfortable and content will make your entire experience much smoother.

Your journey through cancer, no matter which stage you are in, can feel lonely and emotionally distressing. You are not alone and should not try to deal with all of your emotions on your own. Your loved ones and the support communities around you are there to help you through this time, and your diagnosis is not a burden on them. They are ready and willing to help you through this.

Best Breast Cancer Doctor in Houston

At the Breast Institute of Houston, we aim to make your journey through breast cancer as smooth as it possibly can be. We are here to provide not only a health resource, but a recovery one, as well. If you are struggling to cope with your breast cancer, please reach out to the best breast cancer doctor in Houston, Dr. Miltenburg. Our keep an eye on the latest breast cancer topics by following our blog.