By Denise Albert, Co-Founder of lifestyle brand and media company TheMOMS.com, Co-host of “The MOMS on SiriusXM Stars with Denise and Melissa,” and Co-host of The MOMS Mamarazzi event series. Denise was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in December, 2015 and is currently in the middle of treatment.
When you are 41 years old and an #independent, #fulltimeworkingstayathomemom – and then you’re diagnosed with early stage breast cancer – it might be hard to find the good during unexpectedly difficult times. But for me, I had to continue living my way despite breast cancer, ensuring that I would continue to have good days – both for my family, for my work, and for myself.
I live out loud. I try to be honest and make a difference in everything I do, whether on the radio, on social media, or with my friends and family. I speak out on social media about my life as a mom, my social life, my divorce, and my work (with lots of fun hashtags!), so it only felt natural for me to continue living publicly as a #FutureCancerSurvivor. My public journey, and my work with Ford Warriors in Pink, has taught me a lot about how to enjoy more good days during breast cancer treatment, and how to extend more good days to others in the fight.
As I continue treatment and move toward embracing my new #Survivor status, here are some lessons I’ve learned on how to enjoy more good days during my breast cancer journey:
According to Warriors in Pink’s 2016 survey of breast cancer patients, maintaining day-to-day routines during treatment is the primary concern of 83 percent of respondents – second only to life expectancy, at 86 percent. But how do you do that, when it feels like your world has been turned upside down?
Whether through work, running from my kids’ pickups to activities kids’ carpools, scheduling social outings or exercise, I tried to keep my normal routine in place as much as possible so I could feel like myself. Sometimes, on hard days, I simply tried to do one thing more than I did the day before – and there were certainly days when I could really only do one thing! So each day, I’d try to add one more step toward living, laughing, and loving, embracing normalcy in the process.
Exercise not only helps you maintain strength and a sense of normalcy, but it can ease the physical and emotional toll of treatment. I’m a spinner, and so I chose to #FlyThruChemo by spinning a few days a week (or on my off-chemo weeks) at Flywheel. I certainly didn’t have my best workouts – and oftentimes didn’t even break a sweat – but moving and being active felt great.
Staying fit also helped me motivate to eat better, giving my body nutrients it needed to recover. I don’t cook, but I changed my eating habits to help my body beat cancer, cutting out most sugar, carbs, red meat and some dairy. Eating well takes energy, research and some resources, but with Warriors in Pink’s new partnership with Green Chef, free organic meal kits are being made available for door-to-door delivery to breast cancer patients nationwide – this is exactly the type of service that me and my boys could use to keep our healthy meal plans on track!
The same survey found that 96 percent of Americans believe that small gestures from friends and family can make a big difference in the fight against breast cancer – yet only 28 percent of Americans felt confident that they knew what to do to help someone in treatment. Forming a team of supporters around a patient in treatment is an amazing way to extend little gestures that mean so much, giving the patient something to look forward to.
For me, it was #TeamDA. Melissa planned a surprise party for me before chemo and ordered shirts for everyone with #TeamDA. I was so touched, and it reinforced for me how much fun it was to be with my family and friends and celebrate life! So I planned #TeamDA celebrations throughout – a birthday party amidst chemo, a celebratory dinner with friends at the end of chemo, and even a trip to London for myself, my mom and my two boys (along with Melissa and her kids!) between chemo and radiation. Plans with my dream team of supporters gave me something to look forward to!
No matter how strong you think you are, ask for help and talk to a professional. Warriors in Pink’s research revealed that 44 percent of patients report needing help to maintain a positive outlook, and I know this was definitely the case for me!
Before treatment, I thought I was so strong and wouldn’t need help, but I’ve learned that cancer diagnoses hit people at different times. I was so strong the first few months after diagnosis, and then it hit me hard a few months into treatment. Luckily, I have a wonderful team of doctors at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center who constantly offered to put me in touch with professional help. Then when I was ready, I wasn’t afraid to take advantage of the support! If you or a patient you know needs emotional support, Ford Warriors in Pink offers health and financial information from its four charity partners at fordcares.com. And with the free access they offer to MealTrain Plus, your supporters can rally around you, creating a schedule to cover childcare, meals and other household chores, helping to keep life on track while you pay attention to what matters most – your health and well-being.
Create your own community of people who know what you’re going through. To get started, reach out to someone also going through breast cancer treatment – you can really learn from those who are ahead of you (and you can really help those behind you).
Because I have been public about my story, I have heard from people all over the country. I’m in touch with over 20 people going through cancer treatment, and others achieved #Survivor status. A 5-year survivor sent me a list of some of her side effects from chemo, which taught me that my nose was running excessively because I lost my nose hairs. That had never occurred to me before, and it’s certainly not what most people talk about! On the flipside, I taught others behind me simple things like how to put on eyelashes, as well as more serious things like potential questions to ask their doctors.
If you’re struggling to get started, look to Warriors in Pink’s community of Models of Courage – over 100 women nationwide who are being recognized for their strength and courage as breast cancer survivors and thrivers. Visit fordcares.com to learn more about these inspiring men and women, and connect with them or their breast cancer networks.
Do something you wouldn’t have done the day before your diagnosis. You can’t control everything, a fact quickly made clear during cancer treatment, but by taking control of your fears, you live better, fuller days.
People have fear about cancer. But once I didn’t have a choice about fighting that, I decided to tackle another lifelong fear – flying internationally. I flew to London and had the best flight ever on British Airways, and my trip was among the most incredible and rewarding experiences I’ve had yet. Conquering the fear allowed me to embrace new adventures with my sons and my mother, and #TeamDA is now deciding where to go next!
There will be more #FutureCancerSurvivors after you, and they need your help. Though Americans are largely aware of the health threats associated with breast cancer, more than 40 percent are unfamiliar with the challenges patients face in maintaining routines and day-to-day life while in treatment. But you do know, and these patients need you to share the resources, perspective, and wealth of experience you’ve gained!
An easy way to get started is to give something away to another patient. I gathered about six or seven hats that I don’t wear and gave them to someone recently diagnosed who was preparing to shave her head. So many people sent me ginger candies, socks, robes, gifts, and books, and I certainly didn’t need it all. I packed these items in boxes each month and sent them to someone newly diagnosed. I included a letter that asked them to enjoy the items if they needed them, but if not, to please pass along the gifts to someone who might.
Through its More Good Days program, Warriors in Pink offers free and easy gifts for breast cancer patients. You can gift a “Jacki Jacket,” or style-minded recovery garment, to a friend or loved who has recently undergone surgery. Or if you don’t know what to send someone going through treatment, send help to their home. Through the More Good Days initiative, breast cancer non-profit Cleaning For a Reason provides free home cleanings to patients undergoing treatment.
I’m honored to work with Ford Warriors in Pink to share more good days tips and resources throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re looking for ways to help a breast cancer patient you know and love, please check out fordcares.com where there are free tips, tools and resources for patients, survivors, and their families. You can even WIN a “good day” with a Green Chef meal delivery or the grand prize of an all-new 2017 Ford Fusion!
For daily tips on how to help the #FutureCancerSurvivor, go to TheMOMS.com and follow TheMOMS on Instagram @themomsnetwork and on twitter @themoms.