HER2+ Early-Stage Breast Cancer

Self-Care

A breast cancer diagnosis is life changing in many ways. From a practical perspective, it can really upset your daily routine. Focusing on your own needs will be important as you adapt and move forward. This may be challenging, especially if you usually put others’ needs ahead of your own, but this is your time. You must do things that make you feel better.

Your Body Image

Depending on your treatment, you may have dramatic changes in your physical appearance, which can take a toll on your self-esteem. You may have one or both breasts removed, scars, discoloration of the skin, hair loss and lymphedema. Managing even one of these side effects takes effort, and you may feel as if you don’t have the energy to worry about how you look. Although your physical health is the priority, your mood and self image can be affected negatively when you don’t feel good about your appearance. Try these mood-boosting practical suggestions.

Hair

  • Ask your doctor for a prescription for a “cranial (or skull) prosthesis due to alopecia caused by cancer treatment.” This is actually a wig, but the appropriate phrasing may improve eligibility for insurance coverage. You can also contact the American Cancer Society or eBeauty.com about free wigs for patients undergoing cancer treatment.
  • Protect your bare head by using sunscreen if you don’t cover your head.
  • If you still have hair, or when your hair begins to grow back, protect it by using gentle shampoos and conditioners, a wide-toothed comb or soft-bristled brush.
  • Avoid blow dryers, curling/straightening irons and elastics that can harm fragile hair.
  • Sleep on a silk pillowcase to reduce friction.

Skin/Makeup

  • Treatment can cause patchiness and discolored areas of your skin that are usually temporary. This can happen anywhere on your body. Choose a foundation that helps even out your skin tone on your face. Use a concealer to hide dark circles under your eyes.
  • Use gentle soaps and lotions that are free of dyes and perfumes. Keep your skin well moisturized.
  • If you lose your eyebrow hair, use eye shadow or an eyebrow pencil that is a shade darker than your natural eyebrow color to give them definition. Gradually fill them in and smudge until you get the look you like.
  • If you lose your eyelashes, try a fine eyeliner brush and a dark gel liner to coat the upper inner rim of your lash line. Mastering eyeliner takes practice, so don’t give up.
  • Apply tinted lip balm to add color to your face and to brighten your smile.

Nails

  • Keep your nails trimmed short.
  • Wear gloves when gardening and cleaning.
  • Treat yourself to a professional manicure or pedicure from a spa specializing in customers who have cancer. Ask your doctor before using dark polish.

Clothes

  • Manage drains and weight changes by wearing clothes that are comfortable.
  • Your clothes may fit you differently now, and that may make you self-conscious when you go back to work. If it’s in your budget, shop for a few shirts or dresses that fit well. Consider thrift stores or other stores that carry gently used clothing.
  • Find a shop that specializes in mastectomy bras, head coverings, swimsuits with “built-in breasts” and other post-surgical needs.

Your Well-Being

Coping with your diagnosis includes caring for your emotional health. Your feelings may range from being angry and anxious to fearful, guilty, isolated or depressed. These are common, especially if you aren’t able to express yourself to someone who gets it. Family and friends are wonderful, but they can only understand so much. Find a support group for cancer survivors online or in your area. The people there will understand what you’re going through because they have been through something similar. Opening up to them, or to a licensed counselor, may help you work through some emotions.

Research studies have shown that various holistic approaches may reduce feelings of depression and increase the overall sense of well-being. These include a web-based structured writing exercise, journaling, meditation and a group therapy program using guided imagery, also known as visualization.

Your Social Self

Dating and intimacy may be difficult. Along with the physical changes in your body that may make you feel less desirable or insecure about being intimate with a partner, certain treatments may bring on premature menopause. Going through it at the expected age is challenging. Entering it early can disrupt your hormones and bring on additional side effects, which may make you nervous about being intimate. You may also be embarrassed to explain these issues to a partner. Talking with a therapist may help you through these issues.

Additional Resources

 

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