It’s pretty tough to think about having a good attitude when you’re face-to-face with a breast cancer diagnosis, but I am here to say that “attitude is everything” applies to your breast cancer journey, too. It’s almost always shocking when you get the diagnosis. I know from my experience that the sooner you can get past the shock stage and move to a place of positive action, the better.
As I went through my journey, I kept some things in mind to keep the positive attitude as “up” as I could. Here are a few thoughts I wanted to share on the power of a positive mindset and attitude:
- Studies suggest that optimistic cancer patients have a better quality of life than those who are pessimistic and feel hopelessness (Schou, Ekeberg & Rauland, 2005)
- Carver et al., (1993) examined the ways women cope with treatment for early stage breast cancer and found that optimism was associated with a pattern of reported coping tactics that revolved around accepting the reality of the situation, placing as positive a light on the situation as possible, trying to relieve the situation with humor, and taking active steps to do whatever there was to be done.
- Cruess, Antoni, McGregor, et al. (2000) encouraged 34 women who had just undergone surgery with breast cancer to find meaning in the adversity. Results showed difference in cortisol; the treatment group who received behavior therapy showed lower level of this immune suppressing hormone in blood stream, than the control group.
The truth is, there are going to be some dark moments. I remember a few occasions of feeling sorry for myself. There were tears and feelings of hopelessness – it’s going to happen. The key is to not let it hang around. Acknowledge that things are pretty crappy right now, allow yourself a short pity party and then remind yourself that this is temporary. It will get better!
I believe that a positive attitude is one of your best weapons in this fight. It helps you stay open to treatment options. It allows you to enjoy your life while undergoing cancer treatments. And while a positive attitude alone isn't going to cure cancer, I really do believe it helps your body fight the cancer.
When I first heard the words nobody EVER wants to hear…“You have cancer,” I shared the news privately with my husband. My first instinct was to keep it a secret and not tell the world. My husband immediately said, “No way. We are going to need all the support we can get.” Boy was he right! We told our families that day. When we found out, it just happened to be the first day of a week-long vacation with family. To be honest, it was kind of nice to have that first week with no doctor visits and lots of play time as I slowly started to process the diagnosis.
As soon as we got back from vacation, I started telling my closest friends. I also told them it was not a secret and they were welcome to share the news with anyone they felt should know. I’m glad I told them and allowed them to tell others. It was definitely the right way to go for me.
Obviously, it’s nobody else’s business what is going on with your health, but… Support and knowledge can come from the least likely places. Choosing to tell my story, offered some opportunities to get to know and lean on some great people. I didn't know anyone close to my age that had been through breast cancer. By telling everyone, I was able to meet some amazing women that knew exactly what I was going through. Thank goodness I found some survivor sisters along the way!
This whole cancer thing is a really long, tough ride. You need allies. You need help. You need support. And your friends and family WANT to be there for you. Strangers WANT to be there for you. Tell the world. Tell Everyone.
I had heard about Chemo Brain. They told me I might forget things easily, have trouble focusing, and feel like I’m in a fog. I didn’t believe them. I assumed those symptoms could just be from the unbelievable amount of stress that going through chemo and cancer treatments causes. Well that’s true, but chemo brain was real for me, on top of the stress-related brain issues.
While I was going through chemo, it would take me for.freakin.ever to get out of the house. We are talking 10 or more trips back into the house for something I forgot. Oh, I forgot my keys. Oh yeah, I need my purse. Wait, I should grab my water bottle… what did I come back in the house for? …and on and on.
My husband even pointed out that I kept leaving cabinet doors open. Once he pointed it out, I started realizing that I did it all the time. I would go to get a glass out and just never close the cupboard door. So weird.
The most frustrating chemo brain problem was losing my words and losing my train of thought. I regularly forgot what I was saying mid-sentence and would have to ask “what were we talking about?” It is also completely frustrating to know what you want to say and not be able to think of the right word. We’ve all had this happen in regular life, but chemo brain can make it happen all the time. And not necessarily for unusual words.
My husband noticed the chemo brain effects more than I did. He tells me that I constantly forgot conversations. There were supposedly a lot of repeated discussions. Of course, I didn’t believe him at the time. I guess that’s kind of like being accused of snoring…
So what do you do about it?
Fortunately, my chemo brain didn’t last forever. It gradually got better for me after my last chemo treatment. If I had to guess, I’d say I was mostly back to normal after about 6 months. If you are experiencing chemo brain, be patient with yourself. It won't last forever.
The last thing you think about is exercise. There's a good chance any exercise you were doing prior to diagnosis, goes flying out the window. Now you are consumed with doctor appointments, second opinions, learning all you can about your options, and more doctor appointments. ...and more doctor appointments. All energy is thrown into answering a thousand questions about surgery options, chemo, radiation, losing your hair, losing your breasts, recovery time, ability to work, ports, side effects, recurrences... the list goes on and on. Did you notice that exercise wasn't on my list? That's because it suddenly doesn't seem important enough with everything else you are facing. I know, because I was faced with all these questions when I was diagnosed. I know the complete sense of being overwhelmed that happens. And I know that exercise doesn't make the list. But it should, and here's why.
There is no doubt that exercise is important before, during, and after breast cancer treatments. I encourage you to move exercise onto your list of important things. Not only does it have huge physical health benefits, but it will help you clear your head. I found that it helped me feel a little more in control while I was navigating the scary world of breast cancer. After each chemo session, I either got on a treadmill or went for a walk outside. I was taking charge and doing something positive for myself.
It took me a little while after diagnosis to think about exercise again. Those first few weeks are a blur, but then I realized that I needed to be strong. Mentally and physically strong for the fight ahead. If you have questions about how to exercise safely as a cancer survivor, please click here to schedule a free phone consultation.