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Dealing with Recovery and Fear

Dealing with Recovery and Fear

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Elise Sproll, living with TNBC

Elise Sproll, living with TNBC

Your treatment is over, but life hasn’t returned to normal. You’re scared it might come back. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since treatment; fear is normal for cancer patients.1

You may feel like you’ve lost control, but there are ways to take it back.

I’ve changed my life since I got Triple Negative Cancer at 33. My body had been giving me signs it was rundown, but I kept pushing it. After 15 months chemo, surgery, and radiation, I wasn’t cured and had a high chance of recurrence. I was scared and needed to change. Now, I’m a Health and Nutrition Coach who helps women recover after cancer treatment.

Here’s how you can take control and recover from treatment.

Manage stress and cherish rest.

When the body experiences stress it releases stress hormones in a flight-or-fight response. This is beneficial in small doses but harmful when chronic.2

If you’re rushing from waking until sleep, you’re most likely causing your body stress. It is helpful to start your day slowly. Try rising an hour early to say health affirmations, sit in the sun or set your priorities. Take a break for a slow walk. Spend time in nature or meditate. It doesn’t matter what you choose, just aim to start your day calm and in control, and that will flow through your day.

Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress and can assist in a greater sense of wellbeing while recovering from cancer.3 Adding physical activity to your day is easy. Focus on small steps to make your life more active, such as taking a gentle morning walk. Do check with your doctor before you begin any exercise program with a health coach or personal trainer.

Even if you manage regular stressors, fear of recurrence can strike at any time. Breast Cancer Network Australia says that fear will probably never go away entirely, but there are ways to manage it. Check out their website for helpful suggestions.4

Improving length and quality of sleep is critical to health. Deep sleep enables melatonin to be released, which drops body temperature and allows our immune system to search, destroy and repair. It’s the only time our gut can clean itself as it’s constantly digesting through the day. Our brain needs time to sort and store memories. Our muscles, cells, and organs repair after they’ve been busy all day. If you struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep, try earplugs and an eye mask, charging your phone in another room and going to bed early. Check out the Cancer Australia website for more ideas.5

 

OurTNBC - salad

Focus on nourishing foods.

Eating healthy reduces your risk of more than 10 types of cancer6. Eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds can lower your risk of cancer.6 These foods reduce inflammation and contain vital antioxidants and fibre that reduce the risk of cancer. You don’t have to stop eating what you love. Just add or swap to healthy foods where possible.

Add or increase:7

  1. Vegetables, especially greens
  2. Fruit, especially berries
  3. Wholegrain cereals, breads, pasta, and rice
  4. Legumes and beans like peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas

Reduce your intake of:7

  1. Red meat (and avoid processed meats like bacon and ham, if possible)
  2. Salt
  3. Fried foods
  4. Sugary foods and drinks

Reduce alcohol

Alcohol is linked to eight different cancers including breast cancer.8 It’s best to limit alcohol or not drink at all. This means one standard drink a day for women with a maximum 10 per week. A glass of wine is 1.3 std drinks. Try to swap for non-alcohol alternatives like alcohol-free wine and beer, kombucha, cold-pressed juice, tea, or sparkling water.8 One of the best strategies is to set yourself a limit: every time you have an alcoholic drink, note what number drink it is for that week.

 

OurTNBC - water

 

Honour your needs

One of the best ways to take control after cancer is to honour yourself and your needs. I personally realised I’d been living my life based on what others wanted. I couldn’t say no to social events despite feeling exhausted. I was disconnected from my body, and my needs.

Listen to your body and the signs it gives. When feelings come, ask them why they’re there, what they need and comfort yourself. Get clear on who you want to spend time with and who you can be honest with. Learn to communicate what you feel like doing and how to say no to things that aren’t what you need. Setting and honouring clear boundaries is critical for your health after treatment.9

Having spent 3 years feeding my body the foods and habits it needs to function; I hope it can help you recover too. You’ll have more time and feel calm. Your constant worry will quieten. You’ll believe you’re going to be ok. Your body will recover, and cancer will be part of your story, but not all of it.

1. Fear of the Cancer Coming Back | Cancer Council NSW
2. Is there a Connection between Stress and Cancer | ACRF
3. Cancer survivors: Care for your body after treatment – Mayo Clinic

4. Fear of cancer recurrence | Breast Cancer Network Australia (bcna.org.au)
5. Sleep problems | Cancer Australia
6. World Cancer Research Fund Australian Institute for Cancer Research. Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective. Continuous Update Project Exert Report 2018. Available from dietandcancerreport.org
7. Eat healthy | Cancer Institute NSW
8. https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/causes-and-prevention/diet-and-exercise/limit-alcohol
9. Coping with Cancer by Setting Boundaries | BIDMC of Boston

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Glossary of Key Terms

These are explanations of terms that medical professionals and others may use when discussing your TNBC.

Advanced breast cancer

A commonly used term for secondary, metastatic or stage 4 breast cancer

Adjuvant therapy/treatment

Treatment (e.g. chemotherapy) given after surgery.

Alopecia

Hair loss

Areola

The area around the nipple

Axillary dissection/clearance

The removal of some or all of the lymph nodes from the armpit to see if the breast cancer has spread beyond the breast.

Benign

Not cancerous

Biopsy

The removal of cells or tissue from the body to see if they are cancer cells

BRCA1 and BRCA2

Women with a fault, or mutation, in one of these genes have a higher than normal chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer

Breast conserving surgery

Surgery to remove breast cancer and a small area of healthy tissue around the cancer. Also known as lumpectomy.

Chemotherapy

Treatment for cancer using drugs

Clinical trials

Studies involving patients to see if a new treatment is better than an existing one

Complementary medicines

Complementary medicines are products that are used in addition to conventional medical treatments (e.g. chemotherapy and hormone therapies). Complementary medicines include vitamin and mineral supplements, such as fish oil capsules or vitamin D tablets, and herbal medicines.

Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies are practices that are used in addition to conventional medical treatments (e.g. chemotherapy and hormone therapies).Some examples of complementary therapies often used by women with breast cancer include massage, yoga, acupuncture and reflexology.

Double mastectomy

Removal of both breasts during breast cancer surgery

Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS)

Non-invasive breast cancer confined to the ducts of the breast

Early breast cancer

Breast cancer that has not spread beyond the breast or lymph nodes under the arm

Early menopause

Menopause occurring in women under 45 years of age. Early menopause is often a side effect of some common treatments for breast cancer.

Lymph nodes

Glands in the armpit and other parts of the body that filter and drain lymph fluid, trapping bacteria, cancer cells and any other particles that could be harmful to the body

Lymphoedema

A condition that sometimes develops when lymph nodes have been removed during breast cancer surgery and the lymph fluid no longer drains freely, causing swelling in the arm, hand or breast

Lumpectomy

Another name for breast conserving surgery

Mastectomy

The removal of the whole breast during breast cancer surgery

Metastatic breast cancer

Another term for secondary, advanced, or stage 4 breast cancer

Multidisciplinary Team

Often abbreviated to MDT. A team of health professionals who work together to manage a patient’s treatment and care

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy

Chemotherapy treatment given before breast cancer surgery (sometimes used to reduce the size of the tumour to make it easier for the surgeon to operate)

Oestrogen

A type of female hormone

Partial mastectomy

Another term for breast conserving surgery

PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme)

A scheme funded by the Australian Government to subsidise the cost of certain drugs for eligible consumers

Progesterone

A type of female hormone

Radiotherapy

Treatment for cancer using X-rays that target a particular area of the body

Secondary breast cancer

Breast cancer that has spread from the breast to other, more distant parts of the body, most commonly the bones, lungs, liver and sometimes the brain. Also known as advanced, metastatic, or stage 4 breast cancer.

Sentinel node biopsy

identification and removal of the first lymph node to which the breast cancer may have spread for testing by a pathologist

Seroma

Fluid that collects in or around a scar after surgery

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