Wouldn’t it be great to have insider expertise while we’re taking care of ourselves or making a decision related to healthcare services?
The ability to tap into a healthcare providers’ years of experience and specific knowledge for their area and hear them say, “I’d want my mom to do ‘this’ because that’s how to experience the best outcome.”
This is a series of articles with the intent to offer that experience. The helpful, loving ‘if you were my mom’ advice.
This article is an interview with an oncology nurse practitioner sharing the best ways to have a strong immunity during and after breast cancer treatment.
How to Have Strong Immunity During Breast Cancer Treatment (and After)
Today, we’re interviewing Susan Grogan, to get a little bit of oncology-related insider knowledge. She is a nurse practitioner, with a certification in oncology/hematology (NP-C), and works at Mercy Cancer Hematology in Springfield, MO.
Thank you for sharing your expertise through this interview, Susan!
First, what does a typical plan of treatment for breast cancer look like?
Treatment plans are discussed with the patients early on. Treatment is specific to and dependent on:
- Type and stage of cancer
- Family history
- Other health issues
- Home or work environment
- Family support
- Driving distance amoung other factors.
It is typically at least one, or a combination of the following treatment options:
- Sometimes chemotherapy
- Commonly hormonal blocking agents can also be used
Outcomes are getting better because of the additional treatment options.
Samples of cancer tissue or the patient’s blood are frequently checked for targeted therapy. This can include treatment with pills or IV therapy.
Immunotherapy is now an option in many types of cancer.
Use of Faith Can Build A Strong Immunity During Breast Cancer Treatment
As appropriate I will discuss using faith for support. Some already lean on their faith and others need to learn how to use their faith as a way to reduce stress to maintain or build a strong immunity during breast cancer treatment.
Some patients experience an extreme amount of stress because they lack the ‘usual’ emotional support sources. They:
- Have already lost their spouse
- Are a single mom
- Do not have a church family
- Do not have children living close by.
So, if they are open to hearing about prayer and faith I talk about it with them.
I tell them prayer is the most important thing to help them through this.
Sometimes I get to see patients before they start their chemotherapy for the day. I comfort them by reminding them how they can use their experience in the valley to help others.
I remind them that their hair will grow back, their taste will return, and their nausea will go away. They will get through it and back to doing the things they like to do.
Finally, I encourage them to mark their treatments on a calendar, so they can see how many treatments they have left. I always tell them that we will get them through it. I encourage and offer prayer and support.
Self-care Can Maintain or Build a Strong Immunity During Breast Cancer Treatment (and After)
Based on your opinion, what things do you wish your patients would do when using your services, so they feel their best, have a strong immunity during breast cancer treatment and experience the best outcomes possible?
When you are getting chemotherapy, exercise is the best strategy to help prevent fatigue-even though you feel too tired to exercise, it is helpful with fatigue!
Infection control is essential while undergoing chemotherapy: Things like handwashing, cooking food properly, avoid gardening without gloves, avoid cat litter, avoid people (at church or work).
After treatment is complete, we discuss ways to have a strong immunity and be healthy.
Our discussion typically includes healthy behaviors including diet, exercise, mindfulness and social support. I talk a lot about healthy behaviors because this can result in less reoccurrence of the cancer and improved survival.
Eat healthy foods.
I talk about avoiding simple sugars and white flour, eating foods in moderation, bringing colorful foods (fruits & vegetables) into their diet, avoiding char on grilled meats and avoiding processed meats.
I share diet recommendations from the Mayo Clinic. And, I tell them to eat a Mediterranean type of diet which include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, olive oil, etc. Some healthcare practitioners are starting to recommend the Keto diet as well.
I strongly encourage them to get 150 minutes to exercise a week. They can do that by getting 30 minutes a day or three 60 minute periods of exercise or movement.
I tell them they need to at least walk. Put it on their schedule-make it part of what they do.
Some people struggle with it, although some will do well. I hear them say things like; my hip hurts I have arthritis, or I’m tired so can’t exercise. But, I keep reminding them of the value of exercise and how it helps treat arthritis and helps with fatigue.
I give them very small ideas. Walk to the mailbox. Walk around inside house if cold outside.
Eating healthy and walking are the two biggest things they can do to prevent cancer recurrence and help with fatigue.
Manage stress levels.
I talk to them about mindfulness: meditation, prayer, quietness, rest and stretching.
Fear, anxiety, and worry is normal. But, I help them recognize it is ok to get professional help if it is needed, for example, if they become depressed, etc.
Sleep is so important to manage stress. I go a lot into sleep hygiene. I encourage a dark, cool room with no electronics. If they wake up at night – I tell them to read but not ‘on’ something – not on iPad w blue light. If they have an Echo, I encourage them to ask Alexa to play crickets on a sleep timer for 1 ½ hr.
They can put lavender oil in a Diffuser.
Generally, most people thrive with social support. We need friends and family because we do very well when we do it together, like when we walk together 3 times a week. It’s best to work on being healthy together. Cancer doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Finally, what are 3 things you wish your patients knew about your service or area so they would experience greater value or fewer barriers?
Well, honestly I wish patients were aware of cancer screenings and prevention.
-Get mammogram and colonoscopy screening regularly. Why? Because if you can catch cancer early, you can sometimes avoid chemotherapy, or find it at a curable stage with an easier treatment.
-Diet and exercise are the key preventatives YOU can do.
-Stress management is essential to keep up your immunity.
Anything else you would like to provide?
Please get cancer screenings and preventative screenings. You need to get an overall colonoscopy by age 45. If you’re a woman, you need to get your pap smear and mammograms! Get a flu shot. Check your cholesterol regularly.
Thank you so much, Susan!
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(Please note – this information does not guarantee a specific outcome or experience. Also, because there is not a patient-provider relationship in place, it is impossible to give patient-specific advice and is not intended to be a plan of care or treatment. This information is designed to be a complement to your personal healthcare provider’s recommendations, your observations, and research.)