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5 Ways to beat the post-cancer treatment blues

15 Nov

What has 30 Rock got to do with breast cancer?

After reading books and searching online for ways to overcome the inevitable blues after cancer treatment, here’s my little list of suggestions which I have found to work:

1) Exercise daily, if not, as much as you can. Find an exercise that you enjoy and set aside time for that. For me, I found swimming a great way to beat the heat in Singapore and the arm stretching also helps to prevent lymphedema. The sensation of being underwater, accompanied by the sounds of water and my own breathing is an effective way to calm my mind from random thoughts.

2) Make plans. It is easy to get stuck with an disinterest with your daily activities. I was sketching a lot more during my treatment days and now I hardly have any interest to pick up a sketch pen. Try to plan small projects which are achievable to get yourself going, and soon you’ll be getting the hang of it.

3) Meet friends. Social withdrawal is a common symptom of the blues. For many months, I mistook my social withdrawal symptoms as a preference for solitude. Buried underneath unknowingly is often a fear and a lack of confidence to meet people, having to deal with them or their reactions if they knew you have cancer. To overcome this, try to arrange meetings with people you enjoy hanging out with.

4) Eat wisely. A lot of the books that I have read point to food and nutrition as a tool to get better, emotionally as well as physically. As your body is healing itself now after the harsh regime of cancer treatment, try to stay away from foods that will kick you into mood swings. I stayed away from caffeine and sugar (only a tiny bit when I really want a snack) and substituted sweets with raisins, nuts and fruits. Those foods not only give you the nutrition that your body so badly needs, they also prevent you from getting a high, followed by an inevitable low.

5) Humour. As much as it sounds weird, it helps tremendously to laugh about something everyday. Try not to take yourself, or your situation too seriously and see the lighter side of things. When things go wrong, have a laugh… you’d be surprised by how you feel. Psychiatrists have often said that your actions determine your feelings (instead of your feelings determine your action). So to lighten up, smile to someone, tell a joke, remember funny stories. I kept a whopping 5 seasons of 30 Rock comedy in my MacBook and they’re always there whenever I need a pick-me-up.


Survival swimming

26 Oct

Lately I have been experiencing tightness at my right armpit which is the location where two lymph nodes have been removed during the sentinel node biopsy. The sentinel node biopsy is a procedure which determines if cancer has spread from the source through the lymph nodes to other parts of the body.

I was very fortunate to be diagnosed as negative for the sentinel node biopsy. In fact, my breast surgeon, Dr. Wong CY only removed 2 lymph nodes for this procedure. For women who are less fortunate, all their lymph nodes would be removed if cancer cells have spread from these nodes.

A scar at the armpit does not really bother me that much, however I have gotten complacent over the last few months that I forgot to do my daily physiotherapy exercises. So I quite deserved it when the tightness came back; I was not able to lift up my right arm without feeling a really tight and strained nerve on the inner arm.

While looking online for lymphatic help (the sentinel node biopsy has an inherent risk of causing a swelling of the arm due to the insufficient lymph nodes), I came across a webpage which explained how a breast cancer survivor swam to alleviate her lymphedema. Not only does the swimming strokes help in stretching the arms, the gentle waves in the water also help to massage the lymphatic passages and thus enabling better lymphatic drainage.

I have since gone swimming three times last week and it has done wonders for my arm, not to mention the jolt of energy I need for combat of fatigue. It’s a great workout with many health benefits!