Practicing self-care after breast cancer: Six women share how they Thrive365
Simply put, self-care is about doing what makes you feel good. Sometimes, self-care means prioritizing solitude and quiet. Self-care can involve community and time with loved ones. Practicing self-care can include pricey spa packages, or activities that cost little or next to nothing—the price of a paperback or access to a walking trail.
Self-care practices might change after a breast cancer diagnosis. Living with the disease can consist of surgeries, treatment side effects, and anxiety and stress. In the face of all that, self-care is essential for thriving.
As LBBC embraces the theme, Thrive365, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, delve into valuable insights on the importance of self-care. Six women, whose lives have been affected by breast cancer share their views on nurturing oneself.
Holistic wellness approach: Lydia
Lydia is a high school French teacher. She was diagnosed with HER2-negative, estrogen receptor-positive and progesterone receptor-positive stage IIB breast cancer in 2019 at age 42. The LBBC Young Advocate teaches paddleboard yoga, and offers yoga classes at her school to teachers, as well as students—as an alternative to detention.
Self-care, as Lydia sees it, is physical, social, and mental. She welcomed the holistic approach of The Zakim Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where she was treated, and started practicing meditation.
During treatment, self-care involved “stupid stuff,” she recalls—online shopping, watching reality tv, eating cake. Before cancer, Lydia’s body image was affected by fluctuations in her weight. After cancer, she says, her relationship with her body changed. “Now, I don’t care about the weight. I exercise to feel good. I like doing it.”
Daily peace and balance: Terri
Since being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2020 at age 67, Terri values self-care as a way “to find peace and balance.” The retired employment litigation attorney and LBBC Hear My Voice Metastatic Advocate makes sure to relax and practice self-care every day—even if it’s just “15 minutes with a good book on my patio, or a short walk with my dogs.”
She also enjoys knitting, as well as sharing the finished product; “knitting clears my mind and I have lovely gifts for folks as a result.” Terri feels grateful that she has more time to devote to self-care since her retirement, and that she can treat herself to “personal rituals” such as “massages, spa trips, and manicures and pedicures.”
Prioritizing “me time:” Angel
“Before cancer, I thought of self-care as a luxury,” says Angel, an LBBC Young Advocate. But during treatment, “I needed time for myself—so that I could be there for my kids and everything else.”
Angel reads daily and belongs to a book club. She discovered that walking after treatments improved her health. Sometimes she walked alone; other times she walked with her husband or while pushing her children in a stroller. Along with a friend who was also being treated for breast cancer, Angel walked on the hospital’s grounds after treatments. They reached out on social media to invite other people living with breast cancer to join them and have maintained the weekly ritual at local parks.
Full bucket living: Amy
Amy has always recognized the importance of self-care, and how hard it can be, especially if you’re a parent. “When the kids are little,” says the mother of three, “we put ourselves last.”
“It’s the full bucket thing,” says Amy, a certified registered nurse practitioner who was diagnosed with stage IIIB breast cancer in 2021 at age 47. “I tell my patients: if you’re not full, you can’t give to anyone else. There’s no better lesson you can teach your kids.”
One of the ways Amy fills her bucket is by showing gratitude to loved ones who supported her family while she recovered from surgery and coped with treatment side effects. Even during active treatment, battling nausea and fatigue, she made it a priority to “throw on my wig and a dress,” when a friend’s child had a Bat Mitzvah, or a friend got married. “I wanted to show them that they are important to me—to recognize what they had done for me.”
Living life to the fullest: Victoria
Since her diagnosis, Victoria realizes she is more decisive about planning and doing things she enjoys, like traveling. “Self-care is my version of living life to the fullest,” she says.
A licensed clinical counselor, Victoria was diagnosed in 2020, at age 34, with stage III estrogen receptor-positive and progesterone receptor-positive, HER2-negative invasive ductal carcinoma. Journaling and lighting scented candles “keep me calm and grounded,” she says. Victoria also believes in the power of a good cry. She believes, “crying is release from pain and creates space for joy.”
An LBBC Young Advocate, Victoria has found that “giving back,” volunteering in the cancer community, and sharing her experience living with cancer has provided her with “an abundance of healing.”
Varied self-care is vital: Mia
A speech-language pathologist and parent of three kids, Mia was 39 in 2017 when diagnosed with stage III (now Stage IV) hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. “As different as all of my treatments have been, my self-care has varied.” The constant, however, is that “self-care is vital to my overall wellbeing.”
Running, walking, and yoga have always played a role in Mia’s life. She prioritizes her mental health with therapy and Reiki, as well as “snuggles with my kids, good conversation, laughing, and rest.” Music has always been important to Mia, too. “I’m a huge concert goer. I love listening to my favorite bands live!”
Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, you’re in active treatment, or you’re living with metastatic breast cancer, you may benefit from trying a new self-care practice. Jacci Thompson-Dodd, an advocate and educator for women who have experienced illness, suggests: “Give yourself permission to do things you’ve never done."
Sign up to receive emotional support, medical insight, personal stories, and more, delivered to your inbox weekly.