Navigating the Radiation Therapy Journey with Breast Cancer Diagnosis: Mindfulness, Support, and Michigan Summers

Radiation therapy, the next chapter of my breast cancer diagnosis, is looming on my horizon this week. After going through a bilateral mastectomy, a procedure not uncommon for those diagnosed with breast cancer, I find myself facing this new facet of my life with a degree of anxiety that is hard to put into words. It’s not an easy journey, but I stand strong, prepared to face it head-on, because I am stubborn, fierce, and never alone.

The Uncharted Waters of Radiation Treatment

Knowledge is strength, but it can also be a cause for anxiety. The unknown terrifies us, as do potential side effects, and the question of what life might look like during and after radiation therapy. While my health care providers have reassured me, the fear of how radiation treatment may affect facets of my life – from work to home care, and even the joy of Michigan summers – is real.

Steadfast in the Storm: My Support Group and Dream Team at the Cancer Center

Thankfully, I am not alone in this journey. I have the privilege of working with an incredible care team, some of the top experts in the Department of Radiation Oncology in Michigan. Their experience, their dedication, and their compassionate care have been instrumental in my breast care journey. These health care providers have been a pillar of support, thorough in explaining the treatment plan and assuring careful monitoring of possible side effects. They’ve become my sanctuary, my lifeline in this storm.

radiation prep

The Power of Mindfulness: Easing Stress and Anxiety

I wrote last time about my current feelings of depression, and unfortunately anxiety likes to go hand-in-hand with that. Even as the professionals keep a vigilant eye on my physical health, I’ve learned that my mental and emotional wellbeing are equally crucial in this journey. Therefore, I’ve taken a deep dive into the world of mindfulness as a form of self-care. This has led me to some surprising discoveries, tools that have helped me manage each symptom of anxiety and find moments of peace amidst the chaos. 

Studies have shown that mindfulness can play a significant role in reducing stress and improving mental wellbeing in cancer patients. So, how can you incorporate it into your routine? Here are a few strategies I’ve found helpful:

Meditation: Even a few minutes each day can make a big difference. There are several guided meditations available online specifically designed for individuals undergoing cancer treatment. I’ve also found a app on for my Oculus Quest 2 called Tripp that gives an immersive VR experience with guided meditation. It actually puts you onto the beach you dream of and you hear the actual sounds of wind and waves to relax you.

Mindful Breathing: When anxiety strikes, focusing on your breath can help you regain control. Breathe in slowly for a count of four, hold for a count of seven, and breathe out for a count of eight.

Gratitude Journaling: Writing down things you’re grateful for each day can shift your focus from fear to appreciation. My therapist has directed me to journaling from a book with prompts instead of blank pages. It’s a 6-minute a day journal and the small chunks of time that is needed to write your feelings is time well-spent in my view. This has also been really helpful as I have a hard time just starting to write without ideas and may help you too.

Yoga: Gentle yoga practices can not only help improve physical wellbeing but also encourage a sense of calm and present-moment awareness. I have mobility issues (from a condition in my feet and ankles, unrelated to breast cancer) so I’ve been starting to do “Chair Yoga” which simply adjusts yoga exercises with the use of a chair to make it accessible for those who can’t get down with downward facing dog.

A Message of Hope and Resilience

We each carry our unique struggles and fears. For some of us, it’s the specter of cancer treatment. But I want you to know, my dear reader, that it’s okay not to be okay all the time. You are not alone, and you are stronger than you know.

Remember, the journey is not just about enduring, but also about learning, growing, and finding moments of joy even amidst the challenges. We will lean on our medical teams, we will learn to navigate the waters of radiation side effects, and we will continue to work and enjoy our Michigan summers, or whatever brings you joy, as much as we can. We are not just surviving, we are thriving.

f*ck Cancer T-shirt

In the face of adversity, it is our spirit that defines us. It’s our determination, our resilience, and our unwavering hope. It’s the incredible support of medical teams, the comfort of mindfulness practices, and the undying faith in better days ahead.

This journey may not be easy, but it is not one we have to walk alone. We are in this together. And together, we will overcome. Remember, it’s okay to be scared, but never forget to be hopeful.

As always, I am here to offer support, a virtual shoulder to lean on, and a space where you can find solace. You are not alone in your fears, and together, we can weather any storm.