Jennifer Thigpen

Six ways I practiced self-care during breast cancer treatment

Hearing the words “it’s cancer” came as a complete shock to Jen T. It wasn’t anything she ever imagined happening to her, especially at the age of 36, with no family history of breast cancer. In those first few moments, her mind began to race. As someone who likes to be in control (and a mom of two), Jen’s questions felt endless. She played out the scenarios in her head until her oncologist had a frank conversation with her. He explained his job was to make sure his treatment recommendations were effective, but he invited Jen to play her part, too. On the back of a brochure, he wrote down a list of areas she could focus on to help her treatment and recovery. Now, she’s sharing that list—one she still uses to guide her day to day—with others.  

  1. Get effective rest. This was very tough for me at first, as I was used to going and going and going. I struggled with shutting my mind off at night and even had to take melatonin until I developed better sleep patterns. Once I understood that rest allows my body to rejuvenate and recover and can aid in the process of making new, healthy cells, this became easier.
  2. Exercise. I exercised pretty regularly before my diagnosis, but I quit going to the gym as a safety precaution. I began walking in my neighborhood instead, to get some type of physical activity. Some days, it would be 15 minutes; other days, it would be longer. No matter what, I kept moving. I’m now back to exercising four to five days per week.
  3. Manage the stress. I had to come to the realization and understanding that I could no longer do all the things I was accustomed to doing. I had to acknowledge and make peace with my own limitations—relying on others for help. I had to be specific with what I needed, and I had to accept that things may not have been done exactly like I would have done them. Whether it was meal prep, child care or house cleaning, I put my trust in the family members and caregivers who stepped in to care for me at this critical time.
  4. Foster positive relationships. During this healing time, I made certain to give energy and focus to anyone or anything that brought something positive to my life. I wanted to keep my energy and positivity high, so I avoided the news and sad television shows. Instead, I listened to uplifting music and sermons as I drove back and forth to treatments. This also helped with my stress.
  5. Manage your weight and nutritional balance. My focus was on giving my body the best possible chance for healing. During the treatment process, I regularly met with an oncology nutritionist and tried to incorporate as many of her recommendations as possible. Oftentimes, this meant I had to be specific with family and friends when they brought meals for us to eat. Although I love burgers and fries, for example, I learned to substitute green vegetables and fruit options. I basically became a vegetarian! In those early months, I discovered lots of delicious plant-based options, and we enjoy many of them to this day.
  6. Revel in your spirituality. My faith and relationship with God is by far the most important reason I made it through the initial treatment process. There were days I would feel overwhelmed, and prayer is the only thing that got me through those moments. I met regularly with my Cancer Treatment Center of America® (CTCA) pastoral care team and would often attend services in the chapel of the hospital. This would allow me to shift my focus to something greater than my own needs.