Little Ways to Lift Your Spirits

Daily Health Solutions, Featured Article, Healthy Living, Women's Health
on October 1, 2009
Courtesy of Mary Perez LIVING STRONG: Mary Perez, 51, first diagnosed in 2006, just completed reconstructive surgery.

Nurse, breast cancer survivor and Spry reader Mary Perez shares how she stayed strong—physically and emotionally—during her treatment and recovery.

  • Take control. Even my nursing career didn't prepare me for a breast cancer diagnosis. I had to learn about the disease just like everyone else. Researching and educating yourself about your condition gives you a sense of control and helps you make informed decisions about treatment later.
  • Get inspired. When I started going to support groups and reading others' stories, I realized there was a world of people just like me ready to share and mentor. Don't isolate yourself; get to know your new friends at the chemo clinic or radiology department or share your thoughts with others on the Internet. 
  • Laugh often. One of the nurses I work with gave me several Laurel and Hardy DVDs. Before chemo or radiation treatments I'd pop one in. I was amazed at how hard I laughed—I would go to treatment skipping.
  • Shave it! When I noticed the first strands of hair falling out, I had it all shaved off. This spared me the misery of watching it slowly disappear. It put me in control. What I soon discovered was a love for wigs of all colors, styles and lengths. Remember that hair will grow back—and if it doesn't, so what?
  • Work out. I've been a personal trainer for 10 years, but fitness was never more critical than after my cancer diagnosis. Being in good shape helped me avoid fatigue and improved my outlook on life and recovery. Walking, lifting light weights, yoga, Tai Chi and swimming are easy on your body but good for your soul before, during and after treatments.
  • Get away. During the breaks in between treatments I traveled to some of my favorite places in the world. Rewarding myself gave me something wonderful to look forward to in the midst of my battle.
  • Dress up. Cancer treatments can wear you out. Lying around in pajamas all day can be tempting, but it can also cause depression and self pity. Instead, put on your best duds (i.e., what you might wear to lunch with friends). When you look good, you feel good—maybe good enough to go on a short walk or engage in a favorite hobby.
  • Do your nails. When chemo turned my nails black I panicked until I understood that it's a common side effect. Getting manicures made me feel pampered and camouflaged my nails until they grew out. Ask for a modified manicure or pedicure that focuses on just cleaning, shaping and polishing your nails (it's important to avoid any nicks or cuts that might lead to infection).
  • Eat well. After every chemo session, before the side effects set in, I went out to eat, choosing a different appetizer each time. Comfort foods like mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese were my saving grace when I didn't have an appetite at all.
  • Stay in touch. A cancer diagnosis doesn't take away the desire for intimacy, both the physical and non-physical type. Stay connected with your partner. Take your friends' calls—even if you don't feel like it. Get a massage to satisfy your need to be touched. This will help you stay confident in difficult times.