Breast Cancer

A Breast Cancer Patient’s Guide to Pampering Herself

+ Rebecca

Okay, ladies. If you have breast cancer, I bet I know what you’re doing.

You’re getting your treatments (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy) and meanwhile you’re trying to do everything else you have always done. Work, take care of family, run after the kids, clean up the house, cook meals, attend important events, and present the overall image that you’re fine, really.

Just fine.

I know better. I haven’t had breast cancer, but I went through Hodgkin’s disease at 16, and even then I had the woman’s “disease to please,” and wanted to put on a brave face. For the longest time I tried to hide the fact that I was sick at all. When my hair started falling out and my skin drying up, that wasn’t so easy to do anymore.

All these years later, I know that this need we have to take care of everything and everyone else before ourselves is downright dangerous when we’re going through cancer. The body needs all its resources to fight the cancer, say nothing of recover from the treatments and the side effects.

That means that somewhere along the way, you must give back to yourself-and not just when you’re so exhausted you can do nothing but fall into bed.

To help you out, I’ve listed below seven ways you can pamper yourself. These are things that will a) help you to relax and de-stress, b) may reduce side effects, and c) will help rejuvenate your mind and spirit. You need all three of these to keep going until you see the other side of this thing.

I hope you’ll choose one or two to do this week, make an appointment, and make it happen.

Will you?

7 Ways to Pamper Yourself in 30 Minutes or Less

Here are ten ideas I have. If you have more, please add them to the comment section!

1. Get a massage.

Massage therapist Jean Lazar says that stress is the biggest killer, and tends to hinder the body’s ability to heal itself. “The body tightens up,” she says, “traps toxins, and creates painful knots in your muscles. Massage loosens the muscles, releases toxins, and when you drink water, flushes those toxins out. In essence, it gives you back the strength you need to heal.”

I wrote about massage in my book, When Cancer Hits. A study from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center found that cancer patients were able to reduce symptoms by about 50 percent with massages, with benefits lasting for at least two days after treatments. “These data indicate that massage therapy is associated with substantive improvement in cancer patients’ symptom scores,” the researchers wrote.

Make sure your therapist has experience in “oncology massage,” the term used for massage in patients living with cancer. Don’t forget to ask your doctors and nurses for any nearby therapists offering free services. Speak up if anything hurts, and make sure your therapist avoids any open wounds, drains, or lymph nodes. Otherwise, sit back, relax, and enjoy.

2. Get a makeover.

This may seem like a strange suggestion to you, but bear with me. The changes we go through during cancer treatments can take a serious toll on our self esteem. As your confidence dwindles, so do your defenses and your immune system. Getting your mojo back, so to speak, is a great way to help you feel strong again, and to give your body a power boost.

“While doctors are adept at prepping patients for medical side effects,” says Katherine Puckett, national director of mind-body medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Midwestern Regional Medical Center, “not everyone pays close attention to the emotional toll that a changing body image can take. It’s important to incorporate emotional wellness into cancer care too.”

Ask your nurses about makeover services at the center, hospital, or nearby. If there aren’t any in the near future, take yourself to a spa and ask for a facial or makeup tips. Get a wig fitting, go for a haircut, or get a mani-pedi (take your own tools to avoid concerns about infection). I know that after I got my wig and augmented it with some scarves and hats, I felt so much better about myself it wasn’t even funny.

This isn’t self-indulgent. It’s important self care that you need to do to stay strong.

3. Go to a photo shoot.

No, I’m not out of my mind. Check out these pictures on the website for Cancer Treatment Planners.

Photographer Claire Roeth often takes pictures of women going through cancer, and says that it’s essential to feel beautiful and even sexy during and after cancer treatments. She co-hosted an event called “A Day to Shine” in which she took pictures of women who had cancer or had survived cancer, and the results might surprise you.

“I felt connected with fellow cancer survivors and connected with myself,” said participant Diane. “I felt like a woman again! I was sad to take off my makeup that evening, but I cherished every moment of that special day. What a gift!”

“I’ve been inspired enough to pay much more attention to my self-care,” said participant Joy, “which I’d let go for a few months out of frustration of late side effects of my three bouts with the Big C….I felt gorgeous, pampered, and was reminded of the beauty each of us share.”

A beautiful picture taken when you feel you’ve lost your femininity can go a long way toward helping you see yourself with fresh eyes. Take a family member or friend with you if you like, and just go crazy and have fun.

Dare you not to love it.

4. Go on a retreat.

Sometimes you just need to get away. Take a couple days or even a week to process it all.

In 2012, I wrote about my trip to “The Garden,” a yoga retreat center in New York. I was in the middle of burnout, and was feeling the effects. This particular retreat was only 90 minutes away from my home, yet it felt like I’d traveled to the other side of the world.

A few days of yoga classes, organic food, massage sessions, and meditation periods helped me to slow down, remember my body, and reconnect to my spirit. I walked in stressed and frazzled, and walked out refreshed with the extra bonus of having established new friendships.

Look around your area. Chances are you’ll find some retreats nearby. There are a lot of new retreats specifically for women, and specifically for cancer patients, popping up everywhere. Many are very reasonably priced, but if you just can’t swing it, make your own retreat. Travel just a short distance, and choose an economical place to stay if you need to. The important thing is to get away from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life so you can just breathe and relax.

You’ll return refreshed and ready to go at it again. It’s important. Schedule one today!

5. Create your own spa day at home.

Can’t afford a spa treatment? Feel too ill to go out?

It’s okay. You can create your own spa experience without too much effort. Follow these tips to pamper yourself head to toe in your own home!

  • Clear an area in your home where you can have the experience. It may be somewhere in your living room, an extra bedroom, or your own bedroom.
  • Light some candles. Just make sure they’re naturally scented versions that won’t pollute your air. (Read more about that here.)
  • Put on some of your favorite relaxing music.
  • Wash your face with a gentle cleanser. If you have time, take a nice, hot bath with some essential oils dropped in to create your favorite natural scent. Use a dry skin brush before you get in to gently exfoliate (be careful around treatment areas). You can also add some Epsom salts to help ease muscle tension and pain. When you get out of the bath, moisturize immediately after patting dry. Try our CV Skinlabs sensitive skin Body Repair Lotion for long-lasting hydration and healing.
  • Deep condition your hair and let it soak for at least 15 minutes. If you don’t have a deep conditioner, natural oils like jojoba, coconut, and olive will work, or make your own hair mask with ingredients like avocado, egg yolks, yogurt, honey, and oils (like coconut and olive).
  • Apply a facemask. You can make your own with ingredients like yogurt, honey, eggs, bananas, strawberries, oatmeal, and more. Let it sit for at least 10-15 minutes.
  • Apply a moisturizer. Our soothing Calming Moisture for Face is a lovely option as it’s full of natural ingredients and nothing that will irritate sensitive, fragile skin.
  • Pamper your hands. We often forget about them, so now’s the time to give them some attention. Try a gentle scrub to slough off dead skin cells, then apply a thick balm to help moisturize and treat. Our deep-moisturizing, healing Restorative Skin Balm is great for this, and for applying around cuticles and lips.
  • Give yourself a manicure and/or pedicure, or invite friends over for the day and help each other with manicures. If you weren’t able to take a bath, try a foot soak. Simply add some warm water to a large bowl, put in your favorite essential oil, and let your feet absorb the goodness. “Getting a manicure and pedicure makes you feel good,” says cancer patient Kathleen Ducasse. “When you’re getting chemo, you need all the feel-good you can get.”
  • Once your body feels warm, smooth, and pampered, sit back somewhere super comfortable and relax. Let your mind be for at least 20 minutes, and try not to focus on any thought in particular.

6. Do something you love to do.

This seems simple, right? But how often do we do it?

We think about it. “Would be nice,” we say, but we don’t do it.

Now’s the time. You need to generate good, positive feelings to help your body heal, and what better way than doing something you enjoy?

Maybe you call up that special girlfriend and go for a walk or out to lunch. Maybe you spend some time with a favorite pet. Painting, playing a musical instrument, or crafting are all good options. Play hooky and head out to a movie, or visit your favorite restaurant. Go to the bookstore and get that story you’ve been wanting, or go shopping for a new outfit.

Whatever sounds like fun to you, make an appointment to do it!

7. Get together with other fighters.

This is last because it’s critical to your journey.

Connecting with others who “get it” is so very important to your overall outlook. There’s something about sharing what we’re going through that makes us all feel better.

Ask your doctors about group therapy. Did you know that a study published by David Spiegel actually showed that group therapy helped breast cancer patients live longer? Other studies have shown that it can help with symptoms of depression, hopelessness, and helplessness, and can also improve social functioning.

Even if you don’t go to group therapy, getting together with other survivors helps. Maybe you create the group yourself, interact at service events (like those put on by the “Look Good, Feel Good” organization and other similar organizations), strike up a conversation over a foot massage (reflexology treatments are often offered free of charge at hospitals and cancer centers). The important thing is to talk it out. This isn’t something you want to go through alone.

How do you pamper yourself when going through cancer or another illness? Please share your thoughts.

Sources
R. Cassileth, A.J. Vickers, “Massage Therapy for Symptom Control: Outcome Study at a Major Cancer Center,” Journal of Pain Symptom Management, September 2004; 28(3):244-9.

“Beauty Services Boost Self-Esteem and Restore Cancer Patients’ Strength,” Cancer Treatment Centers of America, http://www.cancercenter.com/press-center/press-releases/2013/02/beauty-services-boost-self-esteem-and-restore-cancer-patients-strength/.

John M. Grohol, “Group Therapy Helps Cancer Patients Feel Better,” PsychCentral, http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2007/07/23/group-therapy-helps-cancer-patients-feel-better/.

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