News > Your essential guide to summer with breast cancer

Your essential guide to summer with breast cancer

Everything you want to know about how to enjoy the beach again, travel, and stay cool, safe, and sane during the summer after a breast cancer diagnosis

Woman laying against a pool wall

Thankfully, we’ve got answers. We tapped our community – leadership volunteers, staff, members of our board of directors and others — to pull together trusted guidance and tips and thriver-approved products to help you plan and enjoy your summer. We included a table of contents for the guide, too, so you can jump right to a section or scroll through the entire article to get everything you need to know to have your best summer yet.


Beating the heat

Summer heat can be intense, especially when you’re also managing the effects of breast cancer treatment. Treatment can affect your ability to balance fluids in your body and tolerate heat. With some clever strategies, you can say cool and comfortable all season long.

Hot tips for staying cool

  • Make shade your friend: Whenever you're outdoors, seek out shady spots like trees or create it with your own portable sun protection umbrella.
  • DIY cooling pack: What does LBBC Young Advocate alum Amanda Celeste, a mom from Michigan managing side effects from treatment for metastatic breast cancer, do when she knows she’s going to be outside for an extended period of time? She puts an ice pack in a damp hand towel and places it around her neck for cooling down. (She secures the ends of the towel with a hair-tie so it’s more stable and hands-free.)
  • Personal fan power: Amanda also loves her USB rechargeable neck fan that can plug right into her phone if a quick breeze is needed, or an unexpected hot flash occurs. You couldn’t get cooler with Jisulife’s bladeless neck fan.
  • Pick up a cooling pillow: Young Advocate alum Khristian Roberts, who was diagnosed with DCIS breast cancer when she was 31, knows all about heat, having lived in Texas while she underwent treatment. She recommends you consider investing in a cooling pregnancy body pillow for an extra dose of nighttime comfort. She says it was the “best thing she got” for her mastectomy and DIEP flap surgeries, because “It allowed me to sleep propped up in bed rather than in a recliner.”
  • Dress for success: Opt for light, loose-fitting clothing made from breathable fabrics like cotton or linen. A dress like this belted linen maxi from the new Paula Echevarria collection at Primark would keep you feeling summery, comfortable, and stylish.
  • Sip in style: Always carry a reusable water bottle and sip on cold water throughout the day.
  • Exercise your hot flashes into submission: Incorporating a regular exercise program can significantly alleviate the intensity of hot flashes. Another benefit? Exercise can help reduce stress. LBBC Board member Roberta “Bobbi” Albany exercises at least three times a week as part of her overall self-care regimen – you can exercise with her via the BeACTive Exercise Series on YouTube.
  • Opt to stay indoors:  Sometimes, the best way to beat the heat is to escape it. Consider swapping outdoor plans for a trip to a cool museum or an air-conditioned shopping mall.
A woman's legs halfway in a pool

Taking a dip after a diagnosis

Swimming is a fantastic way to stay cool and get exercise during the summer. But after a diagnosis of breast cancer, you may want to talk with your doctor before you get back in the water.

If you've recently had breast cancer surgery, it's better to relax under a tree or umbrella and enjoy the breezes instead of diving in. Jane Méndez, MD, of the Miami Cancer Institute told HealthCentral that she advises her patients to avoid water activities for four to six weeks after surgery due to the risk of wound infection.

In a Cancerwise story, Pamela Schlembach, MD, of MD Anderson Cancer Center of the University of Texas, recommends that people with weakened immune systems (due to treatment or other factors) be extra cautious about swimming in lakes, rivers, or oceans because bacteria can thrive in warm, stagnant water.

Additionally, radiation therapy can occasionally increase a person's sensitivity to chemicals like chlorine found in pool water.

When in doubt, check in with your care team.

(Swim) suiting up after treatment

Shehzin Tietjen, LBBC's director, corporate relations, is a beach lover, but after her breast cancer treatment, the thought of putting on a bathing suit again felt daunting. “I love being on the beach or by the pool,” says Shehzin. “But you might feel a little vulnerable putting on a swimsuit after breast cancer. I’ve been there. Just remember, you deserve every bit of joy and relaxation this summer brings.”

It’s especially natural after experiencing physical changes to feel self-conscious as you adjust to the changes. Treatment may leave scars, changes in breast shape or reconstruction, or asymmetry. You may have some body image concerns as a result. Take your time. You’re not alone in this. Like Shehzin, many women experience similar feelings after treatment. Prioritize your comfort and focus on what makes you feel good.

Anna Crollman, founder of My Cancer Chic, who was diagnosed with triple-positive breast cancer at age 27, scored a versatile bathing suit. She shares, “This floral swimsuit makes me feel beautiful and feminine after cancer, something that treatment and a double mastectomy threatened to take away."

Fortunately, there's a wide variety of swimwear styles available like tankinis, swim dresses, and rash guards, including options designed for post-surgery support or mastectomy needs. Some swimwear brands offer designs with optional padding, pockets for prosthetics, and higher necklines that can conceal a port-a-cath, a device used to draw blood and give treatments.

You can feel far more comfortable and confident in the right suit, but you may have to try several brands and styles to find the right one.

woman holding a wig

To rock, or not to rock a wig

If you've been rocking a wig, you might have some questions about taking it to the beach. Beaches can get hot, and wigs add some extra warmth. All that sun and heat is hard on your wig, and sand will get into your tresses. Then there’s the wind, which could move your wig around. For all these reasons, wig sellers say wearing a wig to the beach isn’t ideal.

For some folks, the beach is a chance to embrace the sunshine and feel the cool breeze on their scalp or through the hair that’s growing back. Marlene Lally, LBBC’s associate director, finance, and administration, felt “chic” when her hair first started growing back in the summer after treatment for early-stage breast cancer. “My hair was tight, cropped, fuzzy, and red, but I acted as if the look was intentional, and I had fun with it,” says Marlene.” The next 18 months were one hairdo nightmare after another, but I had that August!”

Headscarves, hats, or simply rocking your natural look are all fantastic options. Baseball caps with hair attachments offer a sporty and less expensive alternative to wigs.

Finally, don’t forget sun protection for your scalp. If you’re not covering your noggin, use sunscreen.

two women drinking from bottles of water outside
woman holding a cocktail

Staying hydrated

Staying properly hydrated is key during summer's scorching heat. This is especially true for people who might be dealing with side effects from treatment that make it harder to eat and drink normally. Treatments like chemo, radiation, or immunotherapy can affect your sense of taste, cause nausea, or lead to diarrhea. All these can make it tough to keep fluid levels up. You may need to drink twice as much as usual.

Hydration hacks for summer

  • Water is your best friend: Carry that reusable water bottle everywhere and sip even when you don't feel thirsty.
  • Flavor boost: Don’t like the taste of plain water? Slice up lemons, limes, cucumbers or mint to infuse a pitcher of iced water. Or, add a splash of fruit juice or some frozen fruit.
  • Electrolyte power: Consider an electrolyte drink. Amanda always has easily packable Liquid IV packets to add to her water. It helps her enjoy the taste and stay extra hydrated.
  • Fruity fun: Blend fresh or frozen fruits and berries into smoothies or sorbets for a refreshing and hydrating treat. Try this easy smoothie recipe from Cook For Your Life.
  • Ditch the dehydrators: Limit coffee, alcohol, and sugary drinks. Dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion. Symptoms include headache, nausea, weakness, dizziness, and constipation.

Protecting your skin

Soaking up the sun’s rays can feel amazing, but after breast cancer treatment, extra sun protection goes a long way. Radiation and some chemo drugs can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, plus sun exposure can irritate healing skin and darken scars.

LBBC’s Manager of Community Engagement, Lynn Folkman, who was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in 2009, offers her top sun protection tips.

Sunscreen is a must: Lynn says, “Apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and don't forget to reapply!”

We found a sunscreen that won’t leave a white residue on your skin and doesn’t contain oxybenzone, which studies show can act as an endocrine disruptor and may increase the risk of breast cancer and endometriosis, here.

Lynn also recommends wearing sun-protective clothing, especially long-sleeved, high-necked tops. Think wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection.

And, P.S., don’t forget to protect your most sensitive skin: Khristian is a huge fan of a silicon scar gel with SPF, which she dabbed on her scars under her clothes when she knew she would be outside. “I was so scared of them burning because I am very fair-skinned.”

Get 8 more sun care tips >>

Bugging out: insect bites and lymphedema

If you've had lymph node surgery, you're more prone to a condition called lymphedema, which causes painful swelling. Mosquito bites can worsen this. Take these steps to avoid them and other bugs:

  • Avoid areas known for mosquitos or times of day when bugs are most active (dusk and dawn).
  • Talk to your doctor about insect repellents that are safe to use during and after treatment. The Environmental Working Group’s guide to bug repellents can help you navigate a safe choice for yourself and your family’s needs.
  • Cover up with long, loose-fitting clothing in the evenings and apply repellent to any exposed skin.
car on the beach

Say 'yes' to your summer bucket list

For many, summer is the time for exploring the world, and, as Maryam Lustberg, MD said during LBBC’s recent Thriving Together: 2024 Conference on Metastatic Breast Cancer, “Don’t ever sacrifice a trip!” It’s understandable, though, if you feel tentative about making plans. Here’s how you can travel confidently:

  • Consult your care team: Check in with your doctor to create a plan that works with your needs.
  • Time your travel: Schedule trips around your treatment cycles, so you can make the most of your peak energy periods.
  • Stay updated on vaccinations: Check with your doctor about your vaccination status and if you should get a COVID-19 booster. Ask about any additional travel-specific vaccines.
  • Pack for your peace of mind: Bring extra medication and consider having a doctor's note and digital copies of recent scans in an app or folder on your mobile phone.
  • Move it (move it): Ask your doctor if compression socks are a good idea to prevent blood clots during long periods of sitting and remember to move around and stretch regularly.
Hands forming a heart

Avoiding summer burn(out)

Extra time with family and friends during the summer can be a blessing, but you also need to take care of yourself. Hopefully, you’ll have plenty of time to relax and recharge this summer, but you may have to advocate for your own self-care.

Making "me time" is a priority for Deb Ontiveros, a 2022 LBBC Young Advocate initially diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and now undergoing treatment for a secondary breast cancer diagnosis. Having some outside "me time" during summer mornings under the shade of her backyard tree is a daily ritual: “I usually have a cup of coffee with me and something to read or listen to. I find the early morning air refreshing before the sun starts beating down on me."

Here are a few more ways to put yourself first this season:

  • Set boundaries: Parental guilt or FOMO can cause you to overextend yourself, but your meaningful relationships don’t need you to break the bank or wear down. Deb finds joy in simple backyard activities with her daughter.
  • Comfort is key: Creating a comfortable haven at home is essential. Cozy loungewear, like these lounge pants, and supportive lingerie can make a big difference. Khristian recommends a longline bra like this one  for light summer support and to avoid irritation on scars, “I didn’t want the seam of a mastectomy bra to rub those under-boob scars/scabs.”
  • Spa day at home: You don’t need to travel far to get your vacay vibes. Bobbi believes that “Your health is your wealth,” and she takes a holistic approach to well-being which includes a self-care routine of monthly facials using natural products like Burt’s Bees and Acure. Bobbi has also been using the Cryo Tech Facial Tool by Odacite as a quick way to refresh and self-care anytime of the day. She says, “I love using the Cryo-Tech Facial Tool – it helps with the puffiness of my eyes, and I’m loving how my face has more of a glow to it!”

Creating legacy moments

With all the medical appointments and recovery periods, breast cancer may feel as if it’s overwhelming your life. Take control by being mindful about enjoying summer’s special moments.

"Whether it was the holiday season, summer, or just another day, my family and I were intentional about creating what we called “legacy moments,” explains Ashley Dedmon, LBBC’s new vice president, mission delivery. “Legacy moments didn’t require a lot of money, planning, or anything extravagant. It just required having fun with the family in the moment.”

One of Ashley’s favorite legacy moments was baking her mother’s famous apple crumb pie with her for summer gatherings. “As you travel and spend time with your loved ones this summer, I encourage you to create legacy moments.”

They don’t have to be big moments. A simple stroll in your neighborhood or a family backyard barbecue can offer plenty of opportunities for you to shift your mindset. Sunshine and gentle breezes can help you feel energized and more positive. So, put on a hat and slather on some sunscreen — then go out and enjoy summer!


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