Self-nurturing: a key ingredient in breast cancer support

Women’s Health:  Why self-nurturing is a key ingredient in breast cancer support.

Self-nurturing: a key ingredient in breast cancer support

Sharon Gavioli lives in Australia and is a Registered Nurse with over 30 years’ experience, and an Adult Educator and Counsellor. Not only does she work with people living with cancer, Sharon’s own life has been touched by family members who have had cancer. From experience she is able to appreciate and understand many of the emotional and physical issues and practical options that people with this disease go through. Combining her love of education and ‘informed choice’, Sharon’s understanding of Cancer Care is insightful and inspiring.

A diagnosis of breast cancer is a huge shock in a woman’s life. The question often asked by women is – “Why me and what have I done to deserve this?” This can be particularly difficult for those of us who have embraced the healthy lifestyle choices that I shared in “A healthy lifestyle and breast cancer prevention”. The truth is that sometimes, despite embracing a healthy lifestyle, we cannot always prevent breast cancer developing. If a diagnosis occurs, we need to focus not just on getting through the much-needed treatment, but also on embracing a breast cancer support plan.

In my conversations with women with breast cancer, I discovered a common theme – that as women they have tended to care for others before they care for themselves. Some women expressed that their breast cancer diagnosis was an opportunity to make themselves a priority; to begin to care for themselves.

Based on this I have also pondered; if our breasts are used for nurturing our babies and play a part in our sexual relationships, is it possible to also relate them to how we actually nurture ourselves as women? If we are open to this concept, it would seem very important for women with breast cancer to reintroduce self-care and self-nurturing into their lives.

One could assume that a woman going through treatment for breast cancer would rest well and take care to look after herself, but this is not always the case. Obviously if surgery is involved there will be a stay in hospital where rest time is 'allowed', but many women quickly try to return to their normal routine of working and caring for their families. Some women are so keen on getting back to “normal” that they try to continue with everything they usually would do whilst undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Why do we find it so difficult to stop and care for ourselves – even when faced with a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment?

  • Is it that we have become so used to being busy and caring for others that we simply have lost connection from the fact that it is our natural way to care and nurture for ourselves before we can offer this to anyone else?
  • Do we feel guilty if we nurture ourselves first before everyone and everything else has been taken care of?
  • Have we become so identified as women who are super-capable that our own needs are forgotten, even when we need a space for our health to recover?

Embracing Self-nurturing as a key ingredient in breast cancer support

For many women the concept of self-nurturing is quite foreign as it’s a step up in the level of love we need to give ourselves. A great awareness to begin with self-nurturing is to consider the in-flight analogy of the importance of giving ourselves the oxygen mask before we help another (we are not much good to anyone if we are not breathing!)

Some simple breast cancer support tips to consider on how to begin bringing self-nurturing into your life:

  • Give yourself permission to have time off your usual responsibilities to recover
  • Ask for support from others in your life
  • If you find it difficult to ask for support, gently explore why
  • Listen to your body and rest as much as you need
  • Eat foods that feel right in your body, not from what a book tells you
  • Prepare foods ahead of treatment days so you have something quick and easy to nourish your body when it needs it most
  • Allow yourself to be vulnerable and express how you are feeling (it’s huge what you are going through)
  • Approach everything you do without rushing or pushing yourself too hard
  • Gently exercise your body with short walks or stretching when able (only do as much as your body can manage – definitely no need for the ‘no pain no gain’ approach here)
  • Be open to saying NO to what does not feel right for you (this may be difficult to start with, but practice does make it easier)
  • Regularly stop and check how your body is feeling when approaching a task (am I tense or do I feel gentle/relaxed in my body?)
  • Take time to appreciate you for just being you and not for what you do
  • Be open to becoming aware of any ‘convincing’ self-talk that you don’t deserve to nurture yourself.

The process of developing self-nurturing is a moment-by-moment choice that takes time and can be re-established in the breast cancer recovery period and then built upon as women move forward in their lives.

This approach is very supportive for women who have completed treatment – enabling them to feel that they may reduce the risk of their cancer re-developing in the knowing that all the self-nurturing choices that were embraced as part of the breast cancer support plan can play a role in this.

The truth is – self-nurturing is a beautiful process to embrace for all women, with or without a breast cancer diagnosis.

Filed under

Women's healthCancerLifestyleBreast cancer

  • By Sharon Gavioli, Registered Nurse, Adult Educator, Counsellor, Practitioner of Universal Medicine Therapies, EPA Recognised