Quality of Life after breast cancer treatment
Healthy lifestyle choices can make all the difference
Quality of life is something that’s important to all of us – we’re only given one chance, after all. After breast cancer treatment it might seem like a fleeting thing, but there are steps you can take to improve your health and happiness, and therefore your life.
Getting breast cancer is a life-changing experience and, although it may sound strange, for many women it can change their lives for the better. “During treatment, or shortly after, women often take a step back and decide this is a turning point – a call to make better lifestyle choices and take a decision to thrive rather than simply survive,” says Lillie Shockney, Professor of Breast Cancer and Professor of Surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US, and a breast cancer survivor herself.
“Whether they leave stressful jobs, take more holidays, spend more time with family and friends, begin a new hobby or start a fitness regime, they’re thinking about the value of each and every day.”
Better life, happier life
Some of the changes that improve your quality of life after breast cancer treatment may also help reduce risk of recurrence and boost your overall health. These include:
- Eating healthily — “This doesn’t mean never eating cheesecake again: it means eating smart,” says Shockney. “Concentrate on a diet rich in fruits, nuts and vegetables and replace pastries and sugary treats with whole grains and proteins. It’s good for your breasts and also good for your heart, colon and the general quality of your health.” Read more about improving your quality of life after breast cancer by changing your diet here.
- Exercise — We’re not suggesting you live at the gym or run a marathon – although some women do! For most of us, exercise is about quality over quantity. Sustained physical activity can help reduce your risk of cancer or recurrence, and simply walking more can be one of the best things you decide to do for yourself. It will improve your health and it’s easy enough to do even if you’ve never exercised before. So take a friend with you, and walk together. Exercise also helps us to reduce the impact of the ways our body reacts to stress.
- Say no to smoking —According to Cancer Research UK, smoking is the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK. Giving up smoking isn’t easy, but support is available via the NHS ‘stop smoking’ service. You can ask your GP for a referral or contact the service direct.
- Limit alcohol —There is a clear link between increased risk of cancer and alcohol consumption. Again, it can be difficult to give up drinking entirely – particularly if you have a busy social life – but reducing your intake to the recommended amount is a good start. National health guidelines across the UK recommend that women drink no more than 14 units a week. This is the equivalent of six pints of lower-strength beer or six 175ml glasses of wine per week. If you can, try spreading your drinks over a few days and aim to have drink-free days each week. Find out more on Breast Cancer Now’s website.
Do what makes you happy
Perhaps one of the biggest lifestyle changes you can make is to start making more of every single moment and doing more of the things you enjoy. Laugh more, love more, dance if it makes you happy. Tell the people you love that you love them. Make the most of your friendships. Realise that life is precious – don’t waste a single minute of it.
This also means being prepared to say no sometimes. It’s not about being selfish – it’s about taking care of you. If you don’t make sure your own needs are met, you won’t be in a good position to help or care for anyone else, or to make the contribution you were mean to make to the world. It’s as simple as that.
“Making these lifestyle changes will give you more energy, reduce your risk of recurrence, improve your general health, and reassure you that you are doing the right things to keep your body and mind healthy,” says Lillie Shockney. “You may even find that your quality of life after breast cancer treatment is even better than it was before.”
Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, ONN-CG, is University Distinguished Service Professor of Breast Cancer and Professor of Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine