Shortcuts for Making Life Easier With Breast Cancer

Learning where and how to save energy will help you battle this disease.

By Claire Gillespie  Medical Reviewer Michael Hunter, M.D.

Breast cancer comes with challenges and changes—going through treatment, dealing with side effects, and fluctuating energy levels for starters. Then there’s juggling this new part of life with the usual commitments, like work, family, and friendships. The good news? There are lots of things you can do to make everyday life a little easier to handle. From apps that help you organize your medications to meal prep tips for one-and-done dinners, we’ve got the hacks (from those who’ve been there) you need to streamline your day while you’re dealing with breast cancer.

Take Advantage of Technology

Tons of apps are out there to help you deal with daily life after a breast cancer diagnosis—choose the one that best meets your needs. If you’d like your smartphone to help you stay on top of your meds, ChemoWave provides a timely reminder. It also lets you record your general wellness—important info that can be given to your doctors and nurses even when your chemo brain is particularly foggy. Becca, from the breast cancer nonprofit organization Breast Cancer Now, provides credible information for anyone living with breast cancer, including real-life stories from people who’ve been exactly where you are now.

Plan Your Meals

Keeping your body fueled with nutrient-rich foods can help you maintain your energy levels as you go through breast cancer treatment. Marisa Corcoran, 38, from Atlanta, GA, who was diagnosed with stage 0-1 breast cancer in June 2022, knows the importance of this. “We had an entire meal plan for the week leading up to surgery and for two weeks after,” she says. “My friend and colleague Christie—who was also diagnosed with breast cancer this summer—suggested Beat Cancer Kitchen by Chris Wark, which helped us plan exactly what I’d eat.” Bonus: You’ll kickstart that healthy diet you always wanted to follow. “I’m still eating this way and I feel better than ever,” says Corcoran.

Walk Daily

It’s super simple, but sometimes the most effective things are. Corcoran and her husband started taking daily walks outside together after her diagnosis. “We used the walk as time to reflect on a doctor’s visit, the next steps, and medical bills,” she says. “It was also a chance for me to vent and share if I was feeling overwhelmed or scared.” Researchers found that a 12-week walking program (with or without online support) helped improve overall health outcomes for cancer survivors. Another study found that a 12-week walking routine improved fatigue for breast cancer patients going through chemo.

Hire a Virtual Personal Trainer

When Kordai DeCoteau, 47, from West Orange, NJ, was diagnosed with stage IIb breast cancer in 2019, she walked as often as she could during chemo to keep her immune system in the best possible shape. She also worked with a virtual person trainer during radiation and hormonal therapy, taking part in virtual group classes and individual 30-minute high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes. “My coach kept me motivated and checked on me via text and phone calls,” DeCoteau says. “I think keeping physically fit during treatment helped me avoid the majority of side effects.”

Snack Wisely

It doesn’t happen to everyone, but nausea is a common side effect of chemo or radiation for some people—whether straight after treatment or in the days that follow. You may find that you need to overhaul both what and how you eat. The American Cancer Society suggests eating a snack or light meal before a treatment session. If you don’t feel hungry, try something simple like crackers, clear broth, or plain yogurt—nausea can be worse on an empty stomach. Also, keep your favorite foods off the menu when you have nausea so that you don’t associate them with feeling sick.

Get Organized

It’s not the sexiest advice in the world, but given the amount of paperwork cancer treatment precipitates, setting up a home filing system is paramount for your sanity. If you’re not an apps kind of person, stay organized the old-school way with an accordion binder. Corcoran relied on hers to keep on top of the financial impact of breast cancer treatment. “Label it with things like bills and treatments, and ask for an itemized receipt of every single thing you do for your treatment,” she says. “Having it all in one place will save you time and help you maintain your sanity when the bills start arriving.”

Learn to Let Go

Breast cancer can be exhausting mentally and emotionally as well as physically, no matter what your stage or how early it’s caught. Belinda Rosenblum, 51, Littleton, MA, who was diagnosed with stage 0-1 breast cancer in June 2022, discovered that a crucial part of adapting to life with breast cancer was finding calm and freedom from letting go and trusting in life’s unfolding. That journey is a personal one—you might find journaling, meditation, yoga, or simply spending time in nature the key to a calmer everyday life and better mental health.

Ask for Help Online

Don’t be too proud to let people lend a hand—you need to conserve as much energy as possible for coping with your treatment, says DeCoteau. “Those who love you will show up and help with everyday tasks such as a food train, folding clothes, and household chores,” she says. Rosenblum recommends figuring out what support meets your particular needs. To reach as many people as possible, she announced her diagnosis on social media, including a section about what would be most supportive. “Those who wanted to help found that very useful, and I got the support I wanted,” she says.

Prioritize Sleep

Researchers found that 20% to 70% of women with breast cancer suffer from insomnia, including difficulty staying asleep and difficulty falling back to sleep after waking, as well as sleeping less in general. Sleep restores energy as well as mental calm, so use every tool at your disposal to hack your way to better sleep—skip caffeine (or restrict coffee to mornings), go to bed and get up at the same time every day, and try mindfulness, massage therapy, or apps to help you feel as relaxed as possible. Apps like Calm and Headspace include tools to help improve sleep quality.

Posted in: Emotional/Mental Health, In Treatment, Mindfulness/Wellness, Nutrition/Diet, Treatment