My 3 lifestyle do's and don'ts since having breast cancer.
As a survivor of triple negative breast cancer, the questions I get asked most by curious new sufferers and survivors of the disease are about my lifestyle now. Of course what they are really asking at the core of this is; “how are you keeping it away?” “What is your secret?” My answer to that is always “pure good luck” which is absolutely true. But there are a few lifestyle choices I have consciously made since my breast cancer diagnosis. And as it is now officially 4 years since the day my life changed forever, I thought it was a good time to share them.
Disclaimer; I am not a medical professional. These are just the things that I personally have found to work for me. They are based on my own opinions and what fits into my life. Always seek medical advice if in doubt.
With that said let’s get into it. These are my 3 lifestyle do’s and don’ts since having breast cancer.
1.DO! Learn ways to properly manage stress.
This is probably the most important one for me. I strongly suspect that my breast cancer was linked to the chronic stress I endured when I lost my daughter’s twin brother during my pregnancy. (If you’re curious you can read more about that and my journey with breast cancer in my book “Growing”.) I had no other obvious risk factors, no family history, I was relatively young and had just had a baby. It was a total, devastating bolt out of the blue.
My body has always manifested stress physically in my body. Psoriasis flare ups and gut problems. So it is not far-fetched to assume that it manifested the most extreme stress I have ever experienced as cancer. For this reason, managing stress is my priority.
DON’T! Try to avoid or ignore stress completely.
I deliberately say to manage stress, not avoid it completely because the latter is impossible. Modern adult life and the responsibilities that come with it are stressful. Raising humans is stressful. The fear of my breast cancer coming back is stressful. To expect someone that is dealing with all of that to not feel anxious is unfair. I tried that method at first, but just found that in trying so hard to not be stressed, I stressed myself out even more!
So instead, it’s important to have mechanisms in place that will help you deal with life’s pressures in a healthy way.
These are my go to methods;
This is a real game changer if you’re struggling mentally with cancer. It’s something that happened within me organically as the years went by, but if you are newly diagnosed seeing a therapist will help guide you. I’ll be honest it isn’t easy and you really do need to practice it, but it is worth it.
- Do a daily “brain dump”.
As a busy work from home Mum of 2 little ones, sometimes my daily tasks, mental to do lists and general worries can become overwhelming. (…Must add that thing we’re out of to the shopping list, which articles are my priority this week, need to pick up the cat’s meds, email the mortgage advisor, book the baby in for a vaccination, must squeeze in a workout today, have I been attentive enough to my husband/dog recently?…you get my point!) The simple task of writing it all down consolidates it and makes it all more manageable.
- Let the small things go.
This doesn’t come easily for me. I am by nature an over thinker. A worrier. So I have to work consciously on controlling it. I have learned to notice when something is playing on my mind, and really focus in on it for perspective. Is this a big deal? Does worrying about it help in any way? Can I change it? If the answers to those questions are no, I put it in my brain dump and leave it there.
- Do something every day that is just for you.
What I really crave every day is a little bit of guilt free alone time to refill my cup. That might involve reading a book, walking the dog, doing a workout or just watching some TV with a cup of tea. Anything that activates my parasympathetic nervous system and brings me to a place of calm.
2. DO! Nourish your body with a well balanced diet.
I strive to eat a well rounded diet that includes all of the major food groups needed to fuel my body. Vegetables are a main part every meal except breakfast (which is generally granola, fruit and greek yoghurt). I eat red meat once a week, fish, chicken and we also enjoy vegetarian meals a couple of times a week.
I avoid “light” versions of dairy products or anything that potentially contains a lot of chemicals. My general rule is the fewer packets in my fridge the better, which means a more natural diet. I will opt for organic meat and vegetables if they are not too expensive. I’m lucky that my local supermarket has an affordable organic range so I’m able to do that. BUT if not I absolutely don’t worry about it.
A healthy choice immediately becomes unhealthy if it causes you unnecessary stress. So if eating organic food causes financial pressures it is no longer good for you.
I cook 90% of my family’s meals from scratch because I enjoy it and it means I can fully control what goes into our food. But in the same vein, if I am really busy or feeling particularly tired I won’t hesitate to grab a pizza and some frozen veg from the freezer.
It’s also worth noting that I take a daily multivitamin that is made specifically for women.
DON’T! Do any fad diets or eliminate anything that you enjoy.
I steer clear of any obscure diet that claims it will cure my cancer. I think I’ve heard it all in the course of the past 4 years, and honestly it just makes me roll my eyes. It is a personal decision and I understand that doing regimes like those do work for some people.
I also don’t completely eliminate any particular food group such as dairy, red meat or sugar, although I am mindful of how much of these things I consume.
And yes, I enjoy things we might consider “unhealthy” like crisps and chocolate. The key is moderation. Cancer or not it would be unwise to live off a diet of crisps and chocolate. But life is also too short to live off of salad! I try to find a healthy balance that keeps both my body and my mind happy.
The one thing I have cut down on most since having breast cancer is alcohol. I could drink with the best of them in my youth and still enjoy a glass of wine or 2 at the weekends. But increasingly I notice the toll it takes on me physically and mentally in the days following. With young children to keep up with, and the desire to fuel my body not deplete it, it’s just not worth it anymore.
3.DO! Move your body every day.
Whether that’s a long dog walk, a sweaty work out or just running around with the children, I am mindful to be active in my day to day life. Not only is it amazing for bringing mental clarity and managing stress, it is also proven that exercise helps prevent breast cancer and reduce it’s recurrence. There’s nothing more motivating than that!
It doesn’t need to be intense or time consuming. I am currently doing at home postpartum workouts by @pregnancyandpostpartumtv. They are of course tailored to Mum’s with young babies, so are at most half an hour long. Anything that gets your heart rate up and keeps your body strong is perfect.
DON’T! Ignore your body’s signals to rest.
The idea is to respect your body, to nurture it and give it everything it needs to thrive. Extreme exercise that depletes your body, or exercising when you are exhausted is counter productive. If your body is telling you to rest, it’s important to listen to it. You have been through more than most whilst fighting breast cancer. Resting is not lazy, it is allowing your body to heal and for its resources to be directed back into your vital organs. Resting is just as productive as exercising.
The take away message.
Since having breast cancer, my aim with my lifestyle is to make healthy choices whilst remaining realistic in my expectations. Balance and moderation is key with all aspects of that. Fighting breast cancer makes you a warrior, yes, but still only human.
There is no magic answer for how to keep the dreaded beast away. Everyone and their experiences are different, so all you can do is honour yourself and your needs.
Be kind to yourself, and take care.
What kind of lifestyle have you adopted since having breast cancer?? Please share in the comments below.