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Let’s be honest: Life during treatment for cancer is a hot mess.
In my experience, most of the time being treated for cancer means getting infusions at cancer centers or being sick in bed. When I was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I felt like I lost not only my physical identity — but, more or less, my entire sense of self, too.
Everyone deals with treatment differently. None of our bodies are the same. Treatment made me neutropenic — meaning that my body ran low on a type of white blood cell, leaving my immune system compromised. Unfortunately, I also developed severe foot drop and neuropathy from my treatment.
For me, it meant that working out — something I once loved — wasn’t an option. I had to find other ways to feel like myself.
Having cancer and being treated for it amounted to the most traumatic experience of my life. And I’m a firm believer in the fact that it’s completely OK not to be OK during that time.
That said, during my days off from chemo, I tried as hard as I could to somehow bring back my old self, even if it was just for a day.
No matter how horrible you feel, I think it’s so important to do little things that can make you happy. Even if it’s only once a week, taking the time to focus on yourself can make a difference.
Here, I’ve described my outlets and why they worked for me. These helped me a lot. I hope they help you too!
I can’t fully explain how much writing helped me deal with my anxiety and uncertainty. When you’re going through so many different emotions, writing is a great way to express them.
Not everyone likes to go public with their journey. I completely get that. I’m not telling you to go post an emotional entry on social media, if it doesn’t feel comfortable for you.
Nonetheless, writing can help unleash all of the bottled-up emotions that we’re carrying. Even if it’s buying a journal and writing out a few of your thoughts and feelings on a daily or weekly basis — do it! It doesn’t have to be for the world to see — just you.
Writing can be completely therapeutic. You might be surprised at the sense of relief you feel after you fill out your journal.
I’m talking bubble baths, turning on a salt rock lamp, or applying a soothing face mask — you name it. A little self-care pampering can instantly Zen you out.
I loved doing face masks when I felt horrible. It was a time to relax, time for me, and a little treat after chemo.
Taking a few minutes to create a mini-spa-like environment in my home brought some happiness to my day. I sprayed lavender on my pillow cases. (Buying some lavender essential oils and a diffuser is another option.) I played spa music in my room. It helped calm my anxiety.
And seriously, never underestimate the power of a good sheet mask.
It can take some time, but I recommend trying to find a look that helps you feel comfortable. It might mean a wig, a head wrap, or the bald look. If you like wearing makeup, put some on and rock it.
For me, I loved wigs. That was my thing because even if it was just for an hour, I felt sort of like my old self again. If you need tips on finding the perfect wig, I co-wrote this article with a fellow cancer survivor friend about our experience.
We all know that cancer takes a toll on us physically. In my experience, the more we can look a bit more like our pre-cancer selves, the better. You might be surprised how far a little eyebrow pencil can go for your spirit.
When you have the energy, take a walk and enjoy the outdoors. For me, a short walk around my neighborhood helped more than I could explain.
If you’re able to, you might even try to sit on a bench outside at your cancer center. Simply taking a few moments and appreciating the outdoors can lift your mood.
Try to spend time with your friends, family, and other important people in your life. I can’t emphasize this enough.
If you’re not neutropenic, or otherwise immune-compromised, and you can be around others in person — make the time. Invite your friends and family over, even if it’s to watch television or chat.
If you’re immune-compromised, you may have been advised to limit your exposure to other people (and the germs they potentially carry).
In that case, consider using video chat technology to stay connected face-to-face. From Skype to Google Hangouts to Zoom, there are plenty of options. A good old-fashioned phone chat is an option, too.
We need human interaction. As much as we might want to lie in the fetal position in bed all day, spending time with other people will help. It boosts our mood and helps us feel connected.
Find a hobby that you enjoy and run with it, when you have the time and energy. For me, I loved crafting. I spent a lot of time making vision boards and mood boards, which I would look at every day.
Most of the photos on my boards involved pictures of things I wanted to be able to do in the future, like be in complete remission (obviously), travel, go to yoga, be able to work, etc. These little visions eventually became real things!
I also made craft books of my journey with cancer. Some of my friends loved designing t-shirts, blogging, knitting, you name it.
Consider signing up for a social media platform like Pinterest to look at ideas. You might find inspiration for redecorating, crafting, or more. It’s OK if you simply “pin” ideas — you don’t actually have to do them. Sometimes, it’s just the inspiration that’s the cool part.
But don’t feel bad if all you want to do is stream movies and shows all day. You’re completely allowed to do that!
I send these tips into the world with the hope that they can help you, or someone you love, hold on to a sense of self — even during the rough parts of cancer treatment.
Remember to take one day at a time. Whenever you’re able to give yourself a little bit of extra self-care and self-love, it will make a difference.
Jessica Lynne DeCristofaro is a stage 4B Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor. After receiving her diagnosis, she found that no real guidebook for people with cancer existed. So, she resolved to create one. Chronicling her own cancer journey on her blog, Lymphoma Barbie, she expanded her writings into a book, “Talk Cancer to Me: My Guide to Kicking Cancer’s Booty.” She then went on to found a company called Chemo Kits, which provides cancer patients and survivors with chic chemotherapy “pick-me-up” products to brighten their day. DeCristofaro, a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, lives in Miami, Florida, where she works as a pharmaceutical sales representative.