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6 Things Only Women With Breast Cancer Can Relate To

6 Things Only Women With Breast Cancer Can Relate To

Most people know someone who has struggled with breast cancer — and there is a good reason for that. According to  statistics from the Breast Cancer Society, 1 in 8 American women will develop this serious condition and it is estimated that in 2015 alone, 231,840 women will be newly diagnosed.  Survival rates depend on many factors — but no matter what the outcome, a woman fighting this disease faces some unique challenges, such as those below.

They Can Have Difficulty Eating

Breast cancer patients, like all cancer patients, benefit from a balanced diet that helps them to strengthen their bodies and immune systems and to heal up from surgery. Women know that this is the case and will try to eat healthy as much as possible. However, side effects of cancer treatments — such as nausea, mouth sores, fatigue and constipation or diarrhea — can make good nutrition an ongoing challenge. That is one of the reasons why women can lose so much weight during their cancer battle. Small, frequent meals, high-quality snacks and even supplemental nutritional shakes like Boost or Ensure can help with this problem.

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They Can Have Chronic Fatigue

Many women report that, from one day to the next, the symptom of cancer which is most difficult to deal with is fatigue.  Often, someone battling breast cancer can wake up feeling exhausted even after a good night’s sleep. This can make everyday activities like bathing, dressing or preparing a meal a lot more difficult.  What’s also hard about this is that the fatigue can last a long time, even when the cancer is in remission. Because of this, many women will take naps throughout the day and alternate periods of rest with periods of activity. Also, pacing activities throughout the day can help.

They Can Have Low Libido and Fear of Intimacy

Many cancer patients suffer from low libido or sex drive during the course of their treatment, mostly because of issues like pain, fatigue and nausea.  However, if part of a woman’s treatment is the removal of one or both breasts, this issue can be heightened even further.  Breasts are a large part of many women’s sexuality and dealing with their loss can be difficult.  Many women will opt for lingerie or other slinky wear for intimate moments and it can take a long time for a woman to feel comfortable with her partner seeing her naked again.  Good communication and a lot of patience and loving support can make coping with this issue easier.

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They Can Have Problems at Work

Many women – especially those in the thirties, forties or fifties — will choose to continue working even as they receive cancer treatment.  However, there are a lot of factors which make worse more — or less – difficult to handle, including whether or not the job is very physical, if it is possible to telecommute or work from home and even the willingness of one’s supervisor to be flexible about job duties and working hours. Also, women can sometimes face discrimination at work during or after their cancer battle, such as being passed up for promotion due to their illness.  Many women have brought law suits up due to this particular problem.

They Appreciate Emotional Support

Sometimes coworkers, family or friends can have a hard time knowing what to say to someone who is going through cancer treatments.  But shows of support do help and can mean a lot to someone who is fighting this disease.  “Get well” cards, offers to help with housekeeping or dog-walking, or even just coming over for a cup of coffee and a chat can all help a breast cancer patient feel less lonely and also help them realize that they are loved and appreciated. This emotional support can make the fight against breast cancer a little easier.

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They Still Like to be Fashionable!

Between fatigue, hair loss from chemo and too much weight loss, breast cancer can take a toll on the way a woman looks — and more importantly how she feels about herself.  This can lead to problems like social isolation and even depression if women choose to withdraw from others due to their altered appearance. However, wigs or fashionable hats or scarves to cover hair loss and the use of prosthetic bras under clothing can help a woman feel attractive again and promote an overall good quality of life during and after cancer treatment.

In short, breast cancer is a complicated disease — and for the women who are battling it, life can seem complicated, too, and there are many challenges that they face that others have not thought about.  However, just a show of emotional support — even with something as simple as a hug — can make these challenges easier to overcome.

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Brian Wu

Health Writer, Author

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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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The power of habit

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to make a reminder works for you

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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