Taking care of myself during chemo involved creating boundaries, maintaining routine, and journaling. Here are my tips.
Life during chemotherapy was a wild concept to wrap my head around. I was diagnosed with stage 3C invasive lobular breast cancer at 42 years old, and it felt like I was entering a surreal, absurd, and terrifying unknown.
Along the way, I discovered practical self-care habits that helped keep me grounded. Here are my tips for self-care during chemo based on what I learned during my journey.
People want to help, visit, and know your medical details. Support is a good thing, but it overwhelmed me. I experienced a learning curve, creating boundaries and vocalizing what I needed.
I felt trapped in exhausting conversations about my medical details and unwanted advice. I realized I didn’t have to go there, and it’s OK to only share what I want with whom I want to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
There were questions I didn’t want to answer or didn’t have answers to. I used boundary language to express when I felt too mentally exhausted to talk about it and that I was in good hands following my oncologist’s treatment plan.
Sometimes, I found myself holding space for someone else to unload their emotions about my cancer. Just saying, “Thanks for sharing” and “I’ll remember that when I have space to take that in” was a great way to shift the topic.
Defining and communicating my wants became essential. Whether I needed child care, errands, or a sympathetic ear to listen and hold space, specificity was helpful on both ends. Defining how I wanted a visit to look and setting time limit expectations if needed was the way to go.
If you want a quick video chat or to be picked up for a coffee date, ask for exactly that. It’s OK to cut the visit short or decline altogether — just ask for a raincheck.
Getting up around the same time every day for coffee and a shower helped me maintain a daily routine. Sticking to my kindergartner’s schedule helped me plan for rest and when I might need help. It also helped me feel better on harder chemo-hangover days when I had to be a couch potato and wait for symptoms to pass.
Of course, there were days I didn’t stick to the schedule. But setting the goal to maintain my routine when possible helped me not feel lost mentally.
A really important part of my routine was practicing good sleep hygiene. I maintained my nightly skin care routine and read before lights out. At certain times in my chemo cycle, I was wired on steroids, and sleep felt impossible. It was maddening to be tired but unable to sleep.
But staying up at night rearranging bathroom cabinets and purging closets made me feel worse in the long run. I discovered it was better to let my body physically rest in bed during my normal sleeping hours. I’d listen to music and podcasts, read, watch TV shows, and journal until sleep eventually came.
Journaling was a great way to care for myself throughout my chemo journey. It was a space to rant, rave, and express gratitude.
My journal became my “captain’s log” to track everything: emotions, medication, symptoms, and questions to ask at my next medical appointment.
Reviewing my journal before appointments helped me communicate with my doctor more effectively so they could understand the big picture and manage my care better. It also helped me remember things as chemo brain set in.
Physical activity can improve cancer treatment outcomes and quality of life. Check in with your doctors about how much exercise they recommend you do.
Exercising can help empower you to feel strong and boost your mental health. Take it easy, do what you can, and make needed adjustments.
Some days, I was more active, but others, I was only feeling up for a short walk or just stretching, and I learned that’s OK.
Social media can be an amazing and comforting space to occupy when you’re dealing with cancer. It can also be depressing, lonely, and triggering at times. I remember feeling bouts of FOMO during treatment.
One day, seeing everyone post their vacations, foodie pics, home improvement projects, and glow-up selfies just got to me. I knew it was time to log out of social media for a while and take a break to avoid triggers.
The very best self-care I gave myself during chemo was the connection with others in the BC community.
When I was diagnosed in 2014, I started following a cohort of people who were in the same stage of treatment as me on Instagram. I felt way less alone. Seeing these same people thrive years later has been incredible.
Since then, I’ve watched online breast cancer communities grow immensely. I became a Bezzy guide when it first launched as a support app in 2018. I’m always excited when newly diagnosed folks find a place to land and connect.
Figuring out how to take care of yourself during chemo can help get you through. Creating boundaries, sticking to a routine, and connecting with the BC community allowed me to take care of myself while facing the uncertain future.
You can always check in with the Bezzy community with your questions and tips. We’d love to celebrate your self-care wins.
Medically reviewed on September 22, 2023
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