Registered dietitian Jennifer Smith of White Lake, Michigan, is not just a nutrition expert — she’s a breast cancer survivor.
At 34, Smith was a healthy, busy wife and mother of three girls (ages 7, 4 and 2) building her own nutrition private practice, when she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. There was no family history of breast cancer. She endured chemotherapy, a double mastectomy with lymph nodes removed, and radiation.
Experts offer solid advice, but survivors know what to expect on a daily basis.
“It has been over a year since I was diagnosed and no one can prepare you for the roller coaster of physical, emotional and mental symptoms that a cancer diagnosis, treatment and even going into survivorship put you through,” Smith said.
One day at a time
“My general advice to people living with breast cancer is to take everything one day at a time,” said Smith, a breast cancer dietitian and lifestyle coach at joyenergynutrition.com. “Focus on taking care of yourself. Find support. You are stronger than you think. You can and will get through this.”
From diagnosis, breast cancer can feel overwhelming. Women are quickly thrown into a world full of appointments, testing, poking and prodding, Smith said. Beneficial treatments often come with adverse side effects.
“It feels like this new world you have entered will never come to an end. You feel like you are never going to make it to the other side of treatment, but I promise that you will,” she said. “Try to focus on the treatment or obstacle that you are going through at the moment instead of always looking ahead to what is next.”
Take care of yourself
Women and mothers often put themselves last as they are busy caring for partners and families.
It can feel selfish to take time for ourselves, even if it’s for things that will help keep us healthy like exercising or taking a mental health break, Smith said.
“It’s OK if treatment side effects leave you exhausted and you spend the day resting on the couch instead of always doing. It’s OK if you let other people help you,” she said. “Learn to take the time to allow your body to heal and to lean on other people because no one can do it all themselves.”
Talk to someone
“Find a support group, a therapist, a Facebook group. Find someone who understands your struggles,” Smith said. “Cancer is a huge burden to take on, and sometimes you need help wading through all the emotional and physical crap it puts you through.”
While others may call you a “brave warrior,” you may not feel that way, Smith said.
“You don’t feel very strong or brave when you look into the mirror and see a pale, bald, scared version of yourself staring back,” she said. “You don’t feel strong or brave when you are feeling so depressed and crappy that you can’t bring yourself to get out of bed in the morning. Showing that vulnerability leads to courage and bravery and strength.
“You are so, so much stronger than you know and give yourself credit for. You can and you will do this.”