School is in session

Everybody knows that all medications come with side effects, and when you are going through cancer treatment, you end up taking a lot of medications. This is especially the case when you are going through chemo. There are the chemo drugs, and then the drugs to help with the side effects of chemo, such as to prevent nausea, and help with pain. So the drugs given to a patient to help deal with side effects, also carry with them a new set of side effects. Sometimes there are medications given long-term, and while the side effects out weigh the risk of a cancer recurrence, they are still something a person needs to learn to manage.  In my last blog I talked about neuropathy and what I do for it, and today I’m going to expand on managing the side effects of cancer.

If you happen to be in treatment or just finishing up active treatment you may be experiencing nausea, fatigue and brain fog, as these are common with chemo drugs. I still clearly recall the nausea that hit me after my first chemo treatment. I had been told it would start one to two days after the treatment, but for me, it was just a few hours. It hit hard and fast! The first treatment was the worst one, but thanks to my ongoing meds, I do still have occasional days, years later, when I am nauseated. It is now very mild, but something I am mindful of every now and then. Nausea definitely falls under the category of “if only I knew then what I know now.” Looking back I am surprised that none of my doctors or nurses talked to me about ginger to alleviate nausea. Ginger is well-known to aid in upset stomach, yet in the moment, a cancer patient doesn’t always think beyond what their providers are telling them to do. There are ginger chews, candied ginger and ginger snaps..all of which contain sugar so I don’t recommend them to be used heavily, but they are options. I have found that making ginger water or tea to be very helpful. Although I haven’t tried it myself, I know some have found acupuncture to be useful as well.

Fatigue is another common side effect of active treatment. It’s the kind of knock-down fatigue that one feels when you have the flu. I remember days when I needed to rest after taking a shower, because the simple act of showering was exhausting. The nurses told me during my treatment to get outside and walk, even just around the block. I so wish I had done more of it then I did. It sounds like an oxy-moron, but movement will give you more energy when you are fatigued. Deep breathing and simply stretching is also helpful, yet shouldn’t be too energy zapping.

Brain fog is a well know side effect of active treatment that slowly gets better over a long period of time, sometimes even years. The type of brain fog that results from chemo is different from a typical person forgetting their keys, for example. I recall looking into the face of someone I knew, yet not being able to remember their name. The best thing you can do to improve the effects of brain fog is to use your brain. It may be intellectually, with puzzles, or creatively, with drawing or painting. Your brain, like the rest of your body, needs to be exercised!

I do place much value in the care of doctors and nurses, and the medical options they provide, but I also believe that there are many lifestyle options one can try to take control of our health. Each of us is individual and not everything works for each of us, so I have many ideas and these are just some of them. If you are in treatment or post treatment and struggling with side effects there ARE things you can do yourself to improve your quality of life. You just have to find what works for you, and I’m here to help you do just that.

*At time of post I was hosting group education for managing the side effects of cancer, but now am doing this individually. Send me an email at for a complimentary virtual strategy session.


When pain remains

One of the most common side effects of receiving chemo is neuropathy, or peripheral neuropathy. As careful as the doctors are about preventing long-term effects, some cancer patients end up with this condition that affects them long beyond when treatment has ended. The symptoms can be debilitating, and I’ll share with you what has worked for me to manage the condition.

So what exactly is peripheral neuropathy? While some people know neuropathy as a condition associated with diabetes, it can actually be caused by various diseases, infections and toxins. It is essentially nerve damage, often in hands and/or feet. It can cause numbness, tingling and pain. The degree to which a person is affected depends upon the amount of damage to the nerves. This means two people can experience symptoms of neuropathy and be affected differently and to different degrees. For example, some may feel numbness in their toes only, while other experience severe pain. A person can also experience sensitivity to touch, sensitivity to cold, and lack of coordination or falling.

When I was nearing the end of my five months of chemo my doctor and nurse practitioner closely monitored my symptoms of neuropathy, which had been increasing over time. I recall them saying they had to weigh the benefits of chemo with the long-term affects of the neuropathy. In fact there was a discussion about whether I would receive that last treatment at all. Several months after my active treatment ended, the numbness I was feeling in my toes began to improve. However, a few months later I was put on a combination of medications that are my long-term treatment, and as a result I experience neuropathy symptoms on a daily basis. (Despite the fact that neuropathy is not a documented side effect of these medications.) The way in which my neuropathy effects me now is many of the classic symptoms.  I have mild numbness in my toes, pain on the bottoms of my feet, sensitivity to touch, and sensitivity to cold. I don’t feel that the amount of numbness I have causes me lack of coordination, though some would say I’m naturally ungraceful! The amount of pain I experience varies from just a tight feeling first thing in the morning to stabbing pain waking me at night. The pain is worse after extended periods on my feet, or after wearing the wrong (aka cute) shoes. If someone touches my feet, it is the kind of sudden pain that makes me want to pull away, so pedicures are not my thing. If my feet become cold for an extended period, the result is tight, stabbing pain.

There are medications, of course, that a doctor may offer to patients, but my preference would be to use medication as a last resort.

So how do I manage long days on my feet? I have found a combination of alternative therapies and lifestyle practices to be the answer. I do all I can to keep my feet warm, I wear quality shoes the majority of the time, I try to pace myself with my activity level, and I have found acupuncture to be an essential part of my life. My chiropractor inserts needles directly into my feet, and I’m not going to lie, it doesn’t feel good. Remember, it hurts just to touch them, but when you stick a needle into a damaged nerve..well, it can really hurt. But, long-term it does help me. I find that if I get acupuncture every 3-4 weeks, I have consistently less pain and the acupuncture itself hurts less when I keep up with my appointments. Recently I have also been experimenting with essential oils, and have found it to be a helpful strategy to incorporate as well.

I am managing my pain one step at a time, and striving for less pain with each step!




Unspoken challenge of cancer

As with any health crisis, relationships are tested. Primarily partner/family relationships, but also friendships and work related relationships. Immediate family often feels the most impact, while friends either come out in full support or disappear, and employers/co-workers dance around the topic trying to respect privacy while providing support.

By sharing my experience and what worked for me, my hope is that those who have been diagnosed with cancer will understand that I get it, and those who are caregivers/family/friends will gain some insight and you let your loved one know that they are not alone.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer it was recommended to me to have a mastectomy and I chose to have a double. I also chose not to make any decisions about reconstruction right away and as a result I was flat (concave, really) for about a year. Although I was not in a relationship with a man at the time, I can imagine that the body changes can have a major impact on not only the woman, but the man involved and in turn, the relationship. With my children, I found that sharing things with them step by step helped to alleviate fears. Nothing can fully prepare children for seeing their mom sick, bald and in pain from surgery or medications, but I feel it’s best to be as honest as is possible and appropriate for the age level.

Speaking of fears, I believe it is one of the reasons people with cancer lose friendships. Cancer is scary and some people cannot deal with the fear and avoid the person who has been diagnosed. Sometimes the friendship resumes after health has improved, and sometimes not. I did feel some people drift away, and there were others who provided more support than I would have imagined. I also found friendships with others who were also experiencing breast cancer to be comforting. Both in-person and on-line support groups can be helpful for making connections with others who are going through something similar.

Work relationships may be impacted if you choose to share your diagnosis, or are forced to do so. I chose to be forthcoming with my diagnosis with my employer and co-workers and I found my employers to be understanding and my co-workers some of my best supporters.

One of the things I learned during my studies with IIN is that healthy relationships are vital to one’s health. Yet, in the case with cancer, the physical health challenges may cause relationship struggles, which in turn may be a detriment to your healing. Communication is key…communicating your needs, your thoughts, and your feelings. There may be days when you tell your family you are having a bad day, and need to stay in bed, or there may be days when you can participate more. There may be days when you are craving something, or really need some crackers for an upset stomach. Please reach out to a friend or neighbor. You may find many people who are happy to run an errand for you. I found that people wanted to help, but didn’t know how to, so as hard as it may be, you have to ask for it. There are also websites that allow people to sign up to assist their loved ones who are in need.

One aspect of my health coaching is allowing space for my clients to process the changes in relationships, and their body, that occur as a result of their diagnosis. During our sessions we may talk about the loss of a friendship, and strategies for coping with the emotions that go with the loss. I also provide options and resources that may make these relationships stronger.



Laughter and Cancer

At the beginning stages of my cancer diagnosis I met a woman who told me that when she was given her chemo treatments she watched comedy movies. Internally I thought, “Really?! I’m fighting for my life here!” What I did end up doing during my treatments is watch cable TV shows that I did not get at home. It was my time to zone out and be distracted from reality. It served the same purpose of escapism as watching comedy movies, just a different method.

One of the advantages I have now is hindsight, and as a holistic health coach, I very much want to share “what I wish I knew then” with others who are now in the trenches. One thing I wish someone would have imparted with me is that it is OKAY to laugh and have cancer. Now maybe you’re thinking, that women tried to tell you that. The fact is, in the beginning of a diagnosis (any major diagnosis) you are bombarded with information and in a fog. As time goes by you forget bits of information, or you are consumed with whatever you are dealing with in that moment, or you are too stressed to have your thoughts go to laughter. I wish I would have had someone send me a joke or funny video during the process to give me pause and remind me to laugh. My method of zoning out during treatments did serve it’s purpose of allowing me to escape, however, laughter’s benefits go a step further. What I have learned is laughter is essential to anyone’s health, and it has a great positive impact on reducing stress levels. I think sometimes people also may have an unfounded thought that it would be inappropriate to express laughter during such a challenging time, but I want to encourage the opposite. Providing yourself with the opportunity to laugh amidst cancer will reduce your stress level, which in turn aids your immune system. I’m not going to go into the biochemistry of it, but if you think about, you laugh about something, and you feel better. Isn’t that proof enough that it’s a good thing.

This very topic came up yesterday when I participated in round table discussions at the Breast Cancer Education Association’s annual conference. One women in particular appeared to have a light bulb moment when I said that laughter and cancer can go hand in hand. We then talked about options to provide some laughter, stress relief and bring joy into a difficult situation. As a holistic health coach I strive to step into people’s lives and provide them with ideas for the challenges they are facing, such as strategies for stress relief.

So although laughter and cancer appear to be an oxymoron, I prescribe laughter to be a part of each day, for anyone. Maybe it’s a full length comedy, or a sit-com, or even just a five-minute video, whatever makes you smile and laugh will have advantages for you, both emotionally and physically.



In this month of breast cancer awareness I will be blogging more than in the following months. This is, after all, what I’ve experienced and what I know best in the cancer world. Even within the breast cancer community each person has their own story, which can vary according to the type of breast cancer, the care team, and personal preferences. Today I start at the beginning, at diagnosis.

A diagnosis is not really one moment, it’s a series of tests, waiting and worry, and then the moment of confirmation.

For me it started with an annual check up where a lump was found by my doctor. I was 46 and because my testing and appointments were off schedule, I had a negative mammogram just 8 1/2 months prior. After waiting a few days I had a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound.  The Radiologist who spoke with me at the end of the tests said there was not only an area concern in the breast, but also in the lymph nodes and he said I would need to schedule a biopsy. At that point I think I was too numb, or scared to asked questions. Really, though, the look on the radiologists face told me the answer to the unasked questions. I knew I was in trouble. The following week my needle biopsy was scheduled, and being the planner that I am, in the meantime I began researching. I talked to people and looked at bios of both surgeons and oncologists within the group of my nearby clinic/hospital. During the biopsy I was awake and at the end of the procedure asked the doctor if I should be concerned. I had asked for it straight, and she told me straight out, yes. I was told it may be a couple of days for results, and that a nurse would call me. It isn’t like the movies where you get called in to see your personal doctor and you hear the news in person from someone you’ve known for years. The very day after my biopsy I got a call from a nurse, and although details of the testing are starting to fade, I still remember that exact moment..where I was standing and what I was doing. The nurse told me that, as she had heard I suspected, I did in fact have cancer. She explained a little about what the sample from the biopsy told them, and that more testing of it would provide more information. She then talked about setting up appointments for an oncologist, surgeon and a scan to be sure there wasn’t cancer in any other parts of my body. I told the nurse the names of the doctors I wanted appointments with and being prepared with them made me feel as though I had some control in a situation where everything was really out of my control. It was a conversation that was task orientated. In the next week there were tests and appointments, and in between, life.

Telling my children, friends, family and co-workers about my diagnosis was really hard. Those in my life did not have a task at hand to fuel the conversation like the medical professionals did, and the emotions of a cancer patient compare to the world’s largest roller coaster. The responses varied from platitudes, questions, sympathy, expletives and even silence. The emotions of that time in my life is what stands out and remains with me.

So, what so I suggest should you find yourself being told by a loved one that they have cancer? I suggest not responding with a story of some person you know who has had cancer and is doing well. Make the moment about your loved one who has just had their world turned upside down. It’s okay to ask questions and say you’re sorry. It’s also okay to say, “I don’t know what to say.” Above all else, listen. Your loved one may be scared, angry, or in function mode, but what a newly diagnosed person really needs is to know they are not alone.