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Summertime Tips for Breast Cancer Survivors


Breast Cancer image

The summer season can present some unique challenges when you have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are undergoing treatment. For example, how will the heat affect your energy level and daily activities? Will you feel comfortable wearing your wig and/or a bathing suit to the pool or the beach? These and other concerns can be alleviated by following some basic health tips and devising a plan of action that will maximize your summer vacation and the time you spend with family and friends.

Stay Hydrated
Drink plenty of water and water-based beverages like juice or herbal iced tea, even before you feel thirsty. On average, women should drink eight to ten cups per day. Lack of water can lead to dehydration and leave you at risk for heat-related illnesses. If you plan to attend a summer gathering, avoid alcoholic beverages and drink sparkling water instead. Symptoms of dehydration include mild to excessive thirst and dry mouth, dizziness, light headedness, little or no urination, headache, fatigue, and kidney failure (in extreme cases).

Avoid Excessive Sun Exposure and Stay Cool
Try to plan your outdoor exercise or outings either early or late in the day. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, UV-blocking sunglasses, and loose, comfortable clothing that covers most of your skin (especially areas with fresh surgical scars or those affected by radiation therapy). Use waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, and apply it before you go outside.

Depending on the medications you are taking, you may experience increased sensitivity to sunlight and heat.

Know Which Medications and Treatments Are Sensitive to Heat and Sun
Depending on the medications you are taking, you may experience increased sensitivity to sunlight and heat. Janet Ihde, MD, medical director of the Desert Comprehensive Breast Cancer Center at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, CA, advises breast cancer survivors to consult their doctors regarding medications and vitamins that are sensitive to heat exposure.

Wear a Swimsuit that Maximizes Your Comfort Level
Several swimsuit designers offer bathing suits that have been specially designed for women who have had breast cancer surgery. If you wear a prosthesis, you may also be able to have your favorite swimsuit custom-pocketed for a breast form. Consider using a special kind of prosthesis called a swim form if you are especially active in the water.

Buy a Wig that Fits Your Summer Lifestyle
Whether choosing a natural or synthetic wig, opt for a style that matches your personal preference and lifestyle. Synthetic hair is made of very fine plastic filaments and doesn’t fade in the sun. The fibers in natural hair wigs are heavier and often replicate the qualities of your own hair (frizz in humidity, etc.). Although you may feel warm or sweat under both types, lighter weight wigs are available. On extremely hot days, consider replacing your wig with a stylish natural-fiber scarf or hat. If your hair is growing out, opt for a short hairstyle that will keep you cool and looking chic.

Precautions to Take if You’re at Risk for Lymphedema
If you are traveling on an airplane or driving at high elevations (e.g., mountain trips), wear a compression sleeve and a gauntlet (hand piece) for air pressure changes during travel and to become acclimated upon your arrival, advises Ramona Herbrick, CLT-LANA, a physical therapist with the Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Lymphedema Treatment Center in Glenview, IL. Try to get an emergency row seat on the plane for extra legroom, and do some range of motion exercises while you’re traveling to keep your circulation moving.

If you are traveling to a foreign country, Herbrick suggests obtaining a prescription for antibiotics from your doctor and filling it before you leave. If you develop an infection, immediately call your doctor for approval to start taking the medication.

Other lymphedema-related tips that Herbrick recommends include:

  • Wear an older compression sleeve in saltwater or chlorine that you don’t mind getting dirty.
  • Avoid hot tubs, saunas, and excessive heat.
  • Keep yourself cool and well moisturized.
  • Wear mosquito repellent in outdoor areas.
  • Check yourself frequently for any bug bites or cuts.
  • Ease into a new exercise routine.
  • Avoid deep tissue massage in the affected quadrant (i.e., waist to neck to breastbone to spine).

Most important of all for all breast cancer survivors – rest, pace yourself, and communicate your specific needs to your loved ones so that together you can enjoy a satisfying summer.

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Have a question about breast cancer? Call the YourShoes® 24/7 support center at (800) 221-2141 and speak with a peer counselor who is also a survivor who can help you.

Excerpted with permission from Breast Cancer Network of Strength website, www.networkofstrength.org.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2008.