My sister Francine is one of the strongest women I know. In the last trimester of her pregnancy, she received some devastating news. She had breast cancer. Imagine how difficult it must have been going through surgery, coping with a newborn and the gruling chemotherapy treatments. In a testimony at her church, Francine spoke of the whirlwind of emotions she felt, the uncertainty of the future as she held her baby boy and how prayer, an unwavering faith in God and the support her husband, family and friends held her together during this difficult time. I am elated to say that Francine is now cancer free and has successfully finished her round of chemotherapy. This month’s story of inspiration is Francine’s suggestions to help rebuild strength and immunity after her life-saving, yet invasive Chemotherapy treatments. Here is her story:
I often regard my breast cancer journey, from diagnosis to treatment to being declared cancer free, as a series of dark valleys and triumphant mountains. Each triumphant mountain followed a dark valley. The thought of undergoing chemotherapy was one of those dark valleys. “Chemotherapy” was a scary word to me, yet the powerful drugs that would ultimately help to save my life proved to be not as traumatic as I had led myself to believe. True, the side effects were very real and pretty rough; however, the medical team at the cancer treatment centre offered patients excellent advice on managing often debilitating side effects. Despite those side effects, every day I thank God that I had access to treatment that saved my life. Today, two years post-treatment, I still experience residual effects from the chemotherapy drugs but nutrition and exercise play a crucial role in maintaining my health and overall well being.Yoga was another form of exercise that I found very helpful. I practiced a modified version that included gentle stretching, breathing and strengthening exercises. Prayer was and is my form of meditation.
One of chemotherapy’s side effects is debilitating fatigue. There were days when I found it difficult to get out of bed. Surprisingly, I found exercise, particularly walking very beneficial in countering this side effect. Once, sometimes twice, a day, I bundled my baby son into his stroller and we went walking, he happily snuggled inside the stroller while I pushed it along the sidewalk. I started my walking routine slowly, one or two blocks at a time. Eventually, I was walking several kilometres. Walking was therapeutic. It helped to restore my energy and allowed me to focus on the positives. Every day I increased my pace and when I felt the need to rest, I stopped in the park to sit and read while my baby slept or played in his stroller. I always made sure to bring a large water bottle with me in order to stay hydrated.
Two years post-treatment, I know the value of good nutrition and exercise. Chemotherapy compromises the immune system, so a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, particularly green, leafy vegetables, are essential building blocks to a strong immune system. During the summer months, access to fresh fruit and vegetable is plentiful. My husband and I garden and grow a good variety of vegetables, including pole beans, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, eggplants and, my favourite, kale. Farmers’ markets are abundant in the city where I work and I made it a point to go weekly for a good supply of fresh fruit, especially berries, peaches, plums, nectarines and apples. The winter, of course, is more challenging when it comes to consuming fresh produce but even consuming imported produce is a better choice than lacking them in your diet. I try to buy organic as much as possible in order to keep my system as chemical free as possible. My husband and I (and even our three-year old son, to an extent) love fish and we include fish in our diet at least twice per week. I also supplement my diet with a daily dose of Vitamin D, calcium and a multi-vitamin. I learned through reading, television (Dr. Oz), advice from my healthcare team (oncologist, family doctor, oncology nurses, pharmacists and my local naturopath), what worked for me in helping to restore my health. If you or a loved one is or has been affected by cancer and subsequent treatment, you know that they take a heavy toll on one’s body. So, it is imperative that we arm ourselves with the knowledge to restore our body’s natural defenses. Please, and I cannot stress this enough, please discuss all your nutrition and exercise plans/routines with your healthcare team, especially your oncologist as some supplements are counterintuitive to treatment.
As for me, I admit I haven’t relinquished all vices. I have a sweet tooth and enjoy a decadent treat once in awhile. I indulge in a glass of wine occasionally at the end of the week and on special occasions and I must have my morning coffee to get my day going. But I continue to make sure that exercise and a good diet, rich in fruit, vegetables, fish and lean protein, are key components of my lifestyle.
Life after chemo.