5 Ways to Stay Healthy After Breast Cancer
Here are some good places to start:
No direct link has been established between lifestyle habits and the risk of a breast cancer recurrence, but surviving cancer is a great occasion to evaluate habits. "A cancer diagnosis represents a teachable moment," says Julia Rowland, PhD, director of the National Cancer Institute's Office of Cancer Survivorship. "It gives you a chance to make lifestyle changes that can benefit your general health and cancer status."
You don't need a gym membership to benefit from exercise. The American Cancer Society recommends that survivors get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five or more days a week. What you do is up to you (and your doctor), but the main point is to get your heart rate up. Exercise can also improve mood and sleep, reduce stress, control weight gain, boost self-esteem, and protect against other killers, especially heart disease and diabetes.
Don't smoke, and eat and drink mindfully
You can still get this disease if you don't smoke or drink and you eat a low-fat diet. But some studies draw a link between breast cancer and the same poor lifestyle habits that encourage heart disease and diabetes. Research has shown that being overweight or obese (especially if you're past menopause) increases your risk of breast cancer, especially if you put on the weight as an adult.
Get regular checkups
Set up a schedule of regular visits to your doctor. Each year without a recurrence marks an important drop in your risk, and five years out is a big milestone. Still, recurrences can occur 20 or even 25 years after a first bout with breast cancer, so experts say you'll need to continue screenings.
Boost your spirit
Though the scientific verdict is still out on whether attitude affects outcomes, seeking out people and activities that you enjoy can give you a sense of purpose and meaning. Making a list of pros and cons in your life can help if the blues are clouding your perspective.
You hear more every day about possible environmental links to cancer. A concern is so-called endocrine disruptors, found in some pesticides and plastics, which if absorbed into the body can disturb the action of hormones. Endocrine disruptors may prove significant to breast cancer because the disease is believed to be highly correlated to one's exposure to hormones. Some women, for example, have considered switching to stainless steel or glass water bottles and food containers from plastic.
Experts caution that you can only do so much and that staying healthy after breast cancer may not always be in your control. "Make the best choices you can, stay informed, then live your life," says Jeanne Rizzo, RN, executive director of the Breast Cancer Fund, a nonprofit group that identifies environmental health risks, such as endocrine disruptors, and advocates for their eliimination. "You can't do everything 'right,' nor does a breast cancer diagnosis mean you did something 'wrong.'"