Care and comfort in breast cancer treatment III. or IV. stage
“Advanced breast cancer doesn’t have to be a journey you walk alone,” says Sony Sherpa, MD, a holistic physician in Sacramento, California. “Fortunately, there are tremendous support options and resources available to you.”
Your doctor and medical team
Many cancer centers have a support system that includes your doctor and other health professionals. Remember, they can’t help you if you don’t share what’s going on. To get the support you need, be open with your questions and concerns.
“Sometimes patients don’t ask questions because they don’t want to bother their doctor or nurse, or they don’t think their questions are that important.”says Rebecca Crane-Okada, PhD, director of Cancer Navigation & Willow Sage Wellness Programs at the Margie Petersen Breast Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. “But really, your doctor is the first place to start.”
If your doctor or medical team doesn’t seem to listen to you, or doesn’t respect your questions, or isn’t sure they have enough experience in treating advanced breast cancer, find a new team.
Social workers and counselors
“Social workers, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, or licensed professional counselors help with grief and loss, coping and adjustment, and family communication,” says Crane-Okada. They may also have techniques to help with symptoms such as insomnia.
They can also help with practical issues such as housing, transportation, insurance and financial assistance. They may connect you to other resources and services, such as:
- Financial assistance
- Where and how to get a wig if you want one
- Help in solving workplace problems
- Insurance questions
- Delivery to medical appointments
Ask your doctor or cancer center for a referral. “Many cancer centers and hospitals now provide oncology social workers and counselors to help cope with the psychological, physical and emotional effects of a cancer diagnosis,” says Sherpa.
Spiritual leaders and faith-based communities can provide comfort and support. They can help with practical things that make your everyday life easier, such as housework, eating and getting around. They can also make you feel less alone and more supported. “A chaplain might help with spiritual or religious concerns or questions,” says Crane-Okada.
Friends and family
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Friends and family often want to help, but they don’t always know what you need or what to recommend. Try to be specific about what they can do that will make your life easier and better.
For example, ask family and friends if they can drive you to appointments, watch the kids, help you get groceries, or just be a shoulder to lean on.
Support groups and communities
Consider joining a support group that can be led by an oncology social worker. It’s a great way to connect with other people who are going through a similar experience. They can also help you feel less alone, find valuable information, and learn new ways to cope. You can find support groups at local hospitals, cancer centers, community organizations, and online. Try the Komen Metastatic Breast Cancer group or search for metastatic breast cancer groups on Facebook.
According to Crane-Okada, the amount and type of support available from nonprofits and online sources is vast. It ranges from toll-free helplines to information about your diagnosis and treatment to individual counseling services available via teletherapy.
Try these online resources:
- American Cancer Society
- National Cancer Research Institute
- Patient Protection Foundation
- National Cancer Survivorship Coalition
- Cancer support community
- Cancer care
- Crab net
You can receive palliative care regardless of your age, type or stage of cancer. It’s for anyone who wants to feel better, manage symptoms, and get help with their non-medical needs.
Before starting treatment, talk to your doctor about palliative care options. Palliative care often works best when started right after diagnosis and before treatment. If you receive palliative care during treatment, you may experience less severe symptoms and a better quality of life.
In the treatment of advanced breast cancer, there is a lot you can do to take care of yourself.
Stay healthy. Eat well. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Avoid smoking. Manage stress as best you can. Stay up-to-date with your medical examinations and tests.
Regular exercise. Physical activity can help you feel stronger, increase your energy and reduce stress. It can also give you a sense of success and control. Talk to your healthcare team to create an exercise plan that works for you.
Do the rehab. If your doctor recommends cancer rehabilitation, you may receive physical therapy, occupational therapy, pain management, nutritional planning, career counseling, or emotional counseling. These are helpful resources that can help you take better control of your life and stay independent.
Be careful what’s on your mind. If you feel something is unresolved in your life, you can relax if you take care of it now. Consider facing whatever makes you feel bad. Perhaps you want to mend a broken relationship with a family member or friend. You may be concerned about getting your will and advance directive in place. These things can weigh on your mind, so it’s helpful to take care of them when you feel like it.