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  • Writer's pictureFoundational Breast Care

Self-Nurturing: A key component of Breast Cancer support

Sharon Gavioli lives in Australia and is a Registered Nurse with over 30 years’ experience, as an Adult Educator and Counsellor. Not only has she worked with people living with cancer, her own life has been touched by familial cancer. From experience she appreciates and understands many of the emotional and physical issues, and practical options that people with cancer face.  Combining her love of education and ‘informed choice’, Sharon’s understanding of Cancer Care is insightful and inspiring. 

A diagnosis of breast cancer is a huge shock in a woman’s life. The question often asked by women is – “Why me and what have I done to deserve this?” This can be particularly difficult if one has embraced a healthy lifestyle. The truth is that sometimes, despite all our best efforts at leading a healthy lifestyle, we cannot always prevent breast cancer developing. If a diagnosis occurs, we need to focus not just on getting through the much-needed treatment, but also on embracing a breast cancer support plan. 

In my conversations with women with breast cancer, I discovered a common theme – that as women they have tended to care for others before they care for themselves. Some women expressed that their breast cancer diagnosis was an opportunity to make themselves a priority; and to begin to care for themselves.

Based on this I have also pondered; if our breasts are used for nurturing our babies, and also play a part in our sexual relationships, is it possible to also relate to our breasts in how we actually nurture ourselves as women? If we are open to this concept, it would seem very important for women with breast cancer to reintroduce self-care and self-nurturing into their lives.

One could assume that a woman going through treatment for breast cancer would rest well and take care to look after herself, but this is not always the case. Obviously if surgery is involved there will be a stay in hospital where rest time is 'allowed', but many women quickly try to return to their normal routine of working and caring for their families. For some women there can be a desire to get back to “normal” such that they can even try to continue with everything they usually would do whilst undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy. 

Why do we find it so difficult to stop and care for ourselves – even when faced with a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment?

  • Is it that we have become so used to being busy and caring for others that we simply have lost our understanding that it is our natural way to care and nurture for ourselves before we can offer this to anyone else? 

  • Do we feel guilty if we nurture ourselves first before everyone and everything else has been taken care of? 

  • Have we become so identified as women who are super-capable that our own needs are forgotten, even when we need a space for our health to recover? 

Embracing Self-nurturing as a key ingredient in breast cancer support

For many women the concept of self-nurturing is quite foreign as it’s a step up in the level of love we need to give ourselves. A great understanding to begin self-nurturing is to consider the in-flight analogy of the importance of giving ourselves the oxygen mask first before we help another (we are not much good to anyone if we are not breathing!)

Some simple breast cancer support tips to consider on how to begin bringing self-nurturing into your life:

  • Give yourself permission to have time off from your usual responsibilities to recover, in a way that works for your particular life.

  • Ask for support from others in your life. This can be challenging for many women, but it’s a crucial ingredient of accepting you are worth this level of support.

  • If you find it difficult to ask for support, gently explore why.

  • Listen to your body and rest as much as you need.

  • Eat foods that feel right in your body, not from what a book tells you. By that I mean notice when you are eating if a food supports your body after eating, rather than does it taste great.

  • Prepare foods ahead of treatment days so you have something quick and easy to nourish your body when it needs it most.

  • Allow yourself to be vulnerable and express how you are feeling (it’s huge what you are going through).

  • Approach everything you do without rushing or pushing yourself too hard.

  • Gently exercise your body with short walks or stretching when able (only do as much as your body can manage – definitely no need for the ‘no pain no gain’ approach here).

  • Be open to saying NO to what does not feel right for you (this may be difficult to start with, but practice does make it easier). 

  • Regularly stop and check how your body is feeling when approaching a task (am I tense or do I feel gentle/relaxed in my body?). 

  • Take time to appreciate you for just being you and not for what you do. This may seem simple, and possibly even a point to skim over, but taking moments during the day to simply appreciate the being you are can be invaluable. 

  • Be open to becoming aware of any ‘convincing’ self-talk that you don’t deserve to nurture yourself. 

The process of developing self-nurturing is a moment-by-moment choice that takes time and can be re-established in the breast cancer recovery period and then built upon as women move forward in their lives. 

This approach is also very supportive for women who have completed treatment – enabling them to feel that they may reduce the risk of their cancer re-developing in the knowing that all the self-nurturing choices that were embraced as part of the breast cancer support plan can play a role in this. 

The truth is – self-nurturing is a beautiful and supportive process to embrace for all women, with or without a breast cancer diagnosis.


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