Living with metastatic breast cancer can feel like a full-time job. You have doctors to visit, tests to take, and treatments to undergo. Plus, some treatments, like chemotherapy, can occupy you for hours at a time.
If you’re also trying to fit your job into the mix and accomplish daily chores like cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping, you can wind up with very little time for yourself. And the time that you do have left may be delegated to sleep, given the exhaustion that cancer and its treatments can cause.
It might seem impossible to focus on yourself right now, but it’s important. Taking time out for the things you enjoy and nurturing yourself will give you more energy to combat cancer.
Here are seven tips to help you find a sense of balance in your life while you’re being treated for metastatic breast cancer.
1. Swap big meals for healthy snacks
Focusing on diet and nutrition is important in general, but it’s especially important when you’re being treated for breast cancer. You need a healthy balance of fats, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals to strengthen your body and help you recover from intense treatments.
Sometimes your treatments can make it more difficult or painful to eat. Nausea, appetite loss, and mouth sores are common side effects of chemotherapy and other breast cancer therapies. These treatments can also give foods a strange taste, making them unpleasant to eat.
If you’re having difficulty getting through breakfast, lunch, and dinner, trade those three big meals for smaller snacks throughout the day. To ensure that you get enough nutrition, choose snacks that are rich in nutrients. Good options are high in protein and calories but easy on a sensitive palate. Some examples include peanut butter and crackers, ice cream, nuts, nutritional drinks, and granola bars.
2. Take 10 for exercise
In the past, doctors advised women with metastatic breast cancer to rest, but not anymore. Research is increasingly finding that aerobics, strength training, and other forms of exercise can help beat cancer-related fatigue and give you more energy. Exercising daily can help you sleep better too.
Staying active is also an effective way to combat the stress and anxiety that can come from living with metastatic cancer. Exercise might even improve memory issues from chemotherapy, such as difficulty with learning and memory — known as “chemo brain.”
Tailor your exercise program to your energy level and availability. If you’re busy with treatment during the day, set aside just 10 minutes in the morning to walk. Then do 10 minutes of strengthening, stretching, or yoga in the afternoon. Squeeze in longer exercise sessions when you have time.
Take it slow and listen to your body. If the cancer has spread to your bones, you’ll probably have to avoid high-impact exercises like running or jumping to prevent fractures. Instead, try low-impact programs like walking, pedaling a stationary bike, or doing tai chi.
Before you start to work out, ask your doctor which exercises are safe for you. If you ever feel dizzy, out of breath, or in pain, stop right away.
3. Schedule a therapy session
Metastatic breast cancer doesn’t just affect your body. It can also have an influence on your emotions, leading to extreme anxiety, stress, and worry.
Don’t try to get through this alone. Make an appointment with a therapist who specializes in working with people who have late-stage cancer. Therapy comes in several forms, including one-on-one sessions, or family and group counseling. Choose the type that feels most comfortable to you.
You can also take part in a support group for people with metastatic breast cancer. Support groups meet frequently in hospitals, community centers, places of worship, or private homes. In these groups, you’ll meet other people who’ve been through similar experiences. They’ll share tips on how they deal with cancer and the side effects of treatment, and offer encouragement as you go through your own cancer journey.
4. Relax your way to sleep
Sleep is the perfect antidote to a stressful day of treatment, but over half of women with metastatic breast cancer experience problems with sleeping. Both pain and anxiety can interrupt your nightly rest.
If you can’t sleep, try doing a relaxation technique before bed. Meditate, practice gentle yoga, take a warm bath, or listen to soft music to calm your mind. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable when you’re trying to sleep.
5. Clear your mind with meditation
Worries about cancer can dominate your mind. One way to clear your thoughts is by meditating for a few minutes each day.
Meditation is a way to focus on your breathing. One form of the practice is called mindfulness meditation, where you steer your awareness to the present moment. As thoughts pass through your mind, acknowledge them, but don’t dwell on them.
Meditation slows your breathing and heart rate, and triggers the release of pain-relieving chemicals called endorphins. Meditating regularly can help:
- improve your sleep
- reduce fatigue
- ease pain
- reduce depression and anxiety
- relieve nausea and other side effects from your cancer treatment
- improve your mood
- lower your blood pressure
If you can’t sit still long enough to meditate, try tai chi or yoga. These active forms of meditation combine deep breathing and focus with slow, gentle movements.
6. Ask for help
With so much of your time being given to cancer appointments, there isn’t much left for your daily responsibilities. See if you can leave the day-to-day work — like cleaning, cooking, and child and pet care — to someone else. Ask a friend, neighbor, your partner, or close family members to step in and take over these chores for you.
7. Focus on you
So much stress, frustration, and sadness goes into living with metastatic cancer. Try to let some joy into your life. Nurture yourself. Don’t stop doing the things that you loved to do before your diagnosis.
Visit an art museum, see a funny movie, or stroll through a botanical garden. Let your partner or friends treat you to a spa day or dinner. For whatever time you can spare, try to live in the now and not worry about the future.