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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

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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