Cancer Sucks. 5 Ways to Make It Suck Less This Summer.

Cancer woman outside summerSeven years ago this month, I was about halfway through 8 weeks of radiation treatment for breast cancer.

From the beginning, I was lucky. I found the lump early. I had health insurance. My margins were clear. I had sick leave and a supportive family.

But still, as we say, #cancersucks. And for me it especially sucked in the summer.

First of all, there was the bone-aching fatigue. Just thinking took effort. For weeks, no matter how much I slept, it didn’t go away. The July heat just made it worse. Here are a few tips that helped me through the dog days of my treatment.

  • Everyone told me that exercise would help. I had started yoga as a New Year’s resolution just weeks before my diagnosis. And then I discovered restorative yoga, which basically involves lying on pillows, breathing slowly and learning to relax even more deeply with every exhale. In the Triangle area Cornucopia Cancer Support House offers free yoga, along with acupuncture and other support services for people with cancer and their caretakers.
  • A lot of people I talked with recommended swimming as a safe way to exercise and keep cool. I expected mastectomy swimsuits would be widely available but it wasn’t until I had cancer that I realized there are also “chemo caps” for swimmers who’ve lost their hair.
  • Surgical scars and areas that have been treated with radiation are especially susceptible to sunburn. One nurse suggested that the best protection from the sun was to use SPF 30, plus wear dark, tightly woven clothes that would keep the sun out. Not exactly my idea of summer clothing. Thank goodness there is lightweight sun-protective clothing available now at places like L.L. Bean and REI.
  • Sadly, cancer treatment doesn’t mix well with alcohol. Now, I ask you, what is summer without a gin and tonic or a nice cold beer?  I learned to love orange juice with tonic and a lime twist. Here are lots of other “virgin” summer drinks.
  • Radiation treatment and chemo leave your immune system weakened so you really have to be careful about infections. This affects some of the highlights of summer — like gardening (wear gloves), pedicures (don’t mess with your cuticles), and eating fruit and vegetables (avoid bruised or broken fruit). Because of the risk of infection, even bug bites, picnic food (which may have sat out in the heat too long), and public pools and beaches come with warnings.

There are all kinds of women who have cancer and everyone reacts differently. I don’t think of myself as a survivor; I think of myself as someone who had cancer. But there are some good things that came out of it for me like yoga, a great therapist, and my annual trip to the beach to celebrate the day I found out I didn’t need chemo.

Still,  #cancersucks.

For more information, check out these sites:

FullSizeRender (1)Janet Colm is the founder and former CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina. She was arrested as part of the Moral Monday protests in July 2013 and lives in Chatham County, NC.




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  1. Janet Colm

    I should have added one more way to make it suck less – great friends and family who stand by your side during treatment!


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