Learning you have metastatic breast cancer can be a shock. Suddenly, your life is changed dramatically. You may feel overwhelmed with uncertainty, and enjoying a good quality of life may seem out of reach.
But there are still ways to find pleasure in life. Adding exercise, therapy, and social interaction to your routine can go a long way toward supporting your mind and body on your cancer journey.
Exercise your right to a more fulfilling life
At one time, patients undergoing treatment for cancer were advised to take it easy and get plenty of rest. That’s no longer the case. Studies suggest that physical activity might prevent the disease from advancing or recurring in women undergoing treatment. It may even increase the likelihood of survival.
Even small amounts of moderate exercise can provide big health benefits by combatting some of the most common side effects of cancer treatments. These include trouble remembering or concentrating (commonly called “chemo brain” or “chemo fog”), fatigue, nausea, and depression. Physical activity can also improve balance, prevent muscle atrophy, and reduce the risk of blood clots, which are all crucial for recovery.
Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise are equally beneficial at easing the side effects of cancer treatment. Aerobic exercise is a sustained activity that increases the heart rate and pumps more oxygen to the muscles. It helps you manage your weight, improve your mental health, and boost your immunity. Examples include:
Anaerobic exercise is a high-intensity, short duration activity that builds muscle mass and overall strength. Examples include:
- heavy lifting
- squats or lunges
- jump rope
Ask your doctor how much and how often you can exercise, and if there are types of exercise you should avoid. Making physical activity part of your treatment plan can aid your physical recovery and improve your emotional well-being.
Try cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is short-term, hands-on psychotherapy. Its goal is to change the underlying behavior and thinking patterns that cause anxiety and doubt.
This type of therapy may help alleviate some of the depression and loneliness that may arise when you’re living with advanced breast cancer. It may even aid in recovery and boost longevity.
If you’re interested in finding a therapist, you can start your search on the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s Therapist Directory.
Connect mind, body, and spirit
Ancient mind-body practices and other complementary therapies may help to manage the emotional and psychological effects of cancer treatment. Such practices include:
These activities may enhance your quality of life by reducing stress and fatigue. One study even found that yoga participants had lower levels of cortisol, a hormone released by the body in response to stress.
Join a support group
If you’ve been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, it can be particularly helpful to connect with others who know what you’re going through.
Support groups are a great place to learn coping skills related to exercise, diet, and meditation that can help you manage the stress of the disease.
There are many resources online to help you find support. These websites are a great starting point:
Your doctor, hospital, or treatment provider can also provide you with a list of support groups in your area.
Engage in quality social interactions
According to The National Institutes of Health (NIH), people living with cancer are slightly more likely to survive five years or more after chemotherapy if they interact during chemotherapy with others who have survived five years or longer. This is because these social interactions provide a more positive outlook and help to reduce stress.
Here are just a few simple ways you can engage socially:
- eat out with friends
- take a walk or bike ride with others
- join a support group
- play a game of cards or a board game with friends
It’s normal to feel scared, overwhelmed, and uncertain after a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. But you can overcome those emotions. By engaging in physical and social activities, you can improve your quality of life, reduce stress, and have a positive affect on your outlook.