By Holly Kennedy, founder of Happy Magazine, a dedicated cancer support magazine for Ireland
- TAKE A PRACTICAL APPROACH TO GETTING THROUGH TREATMENT Once you have a treatment plan in place, help get your head around it by breaking it down into bite-size pieces. Draw it out on paper if you’re a visual person and stick it up were you can see it. Mark it off as you go. I had twenty weeks of chemo and found planning rewards at each milestone a great way to stay motivated. After each chemo, I treated myself to something small, say a fifteen euro gift, to say ‘well done, you did it! Now, onto the next one!’. My h-usband and I also planned a fancy dinner out for the end of chemo and a short holiday at the end of radiotherapy. Having something to look forward to throughout treatment was helpful during the more difficult days. My other top recommendation for getting through treatment is be kind to yourself and get through treatment however you need to. Don’t try drastically change your diet or lifestyle (unless YOU really want to and/or are recommended to do so by your medical team) but rather do everything you can to stay well and stay positive. Eat as well and as healthy as you can and don’t beat yourself up about making big life changes during treatment. There will be plenty of time for that once you have completed treatment, the goal must be to get through your treatment. I was very careful not to get sick during treatment and employed a rigorous hand-washing routine on leaving and returning to the house. I also ‘trained’ myself not to touch my nose/mouth and also to touch as little as possible in hospital – a little over the top perhaps but it worked for me.
- TAKE CONTROL OF THE SITUATION A cancer diagnosis often feels like we have handed over all control to our medical team to get us well again. While they may have set your treatment plan and are caring for you, it is important to remember YOU are always in control. My recommendation is, buy a diary/notebook to keep track of all your appointments, questions, side effects and notes. Stay on top of your treatment plan, your medication and your team’s recommendations for you. Chase appointments that are mentioned or offered by your team rather than waiting for them to remind you. They are human and have many, many patients – they may well forget you. Meal plan for each week and bulk grocery shop if possible – this will save you money and trips to the shops and it is helpful to know each day in advance what meals you have planned so you can have headspace for everything else. Delegate and schedule cooking and household help for the duration of treatment if you can. I’ve heard from many readers at Happy Magazine who were able to afford home cleaning help during chemo or who had friends and family cook for them on a rota and how both of these were a huge help. Set up a WhatsApp group to keep family and friends up to date (and to ask for help when needed). A WhatsApp Group is also a good way to disseminate information to a wider group all at once and will save you saying the same updates over and over again. If there is a particular part of the day that is difficult for you – for me, bedtime was always an anxious time – try create routines to help you along – hospital day routines, morning routines, bedtime routines. Creating a calming bedtime routine involving reading, drinking a herbal tea and journaling really helped me deal with my anxious times.
- ASK EXPERTS ONLY Ah – maybe I should have put this as number 1? It should be a golden rule for a cancer diagnosis – avoid asking Google for answers related to your diagnosis – rather, keep a running list of questions for your medical team and only ask the experts. You will be in contact contact with your medical team during treatment – use the time you have with them to ask whatever is on your mind. Google will only give you general information and it’s often full of medical jargon and frightening statistics – It’s also important to know (and remember) that no two cancer journeys are the same. Stay focused on and climb your own mountain.
- USE SUPPORT SERVICES Take a ‘whole body’ approach to your diagnosis. Seek the professional advice you need, whether its for getting fitted for a wig or post-surgery bras, or seeing a dietician, counsellor or cancer support group. Try reflexology, yoga, acupuncture, meditation and reiki – all are complementary therapies that can help you feel better during your journey – schedule them as part of your treatment plan. Many cancer support centres offer these complementary therapies free of charge. There is no reason why you can’t look and feel like you during treatment. A good wig helped me feel more like myself and I wore mine for almost 9 months. I also had a yogi friend come to my home to do private in-home yoga sessions with me and I found these hugely helpful and a wonderful escape. Meditation also became a great tool for me, especially during hospital visits or stays. The Honest Guys on YouTube are a great place to start with meditation.
- GET SOMETHING POSITIVE TO FOCUS ON You might find yourself with a lot of time on your hands during a cancer treatment plan. There is waiting around for appointments and a lot of time at home recovering after treatment. Why not start that hobby you’ve always wanted to do – write a blog, paint, garden, run, or read? Whatever it is that you do for fun – make a plan to do more of that if you can. Exercise is great too, try to keep moving during your treatment plan, even a short walk a day will help keep your energy levels up and give you a mood lift. Don’t be afraid to exercise if you can. Use your new hobby, whatever it is, to escape from your reality, do it to fill the time you have nothing to do but wait for your energy to return. For me, I loved to write and design and soon into my treatment I started writing Happy Magazine online as a way to find a little bit of joy in each day. I’ve heard from readers that they started to draw or paint or take singing lessons during treatment and how the positive focus on something they really enjoyed or had always wanted to do really helped them through.