Cancer Tips

These tips are primarily for breast cancer surgery, but some of them may be useful for other procedures. I cannot vouch for every item on the websites, but I try to use reputable sites. In August 2000, I had a an operation with reconstructive surgery and they checked my lymph nodes; after a few weeks I started chemotherapy. I am free and clear of cancer and active in the American Cancer Society's Mountain View Relay for Life.

1. If people want to help – let them. It’s hard to drive to the appointments and listen to all the information when you’re under duress. We’ve also had a friend pick up our son, food was made for us, and beautiful flowers were sent to cheer us all up.

2. There is a lot of information on reputable sites on the Internet. Some of the sites contain useful questions to ask your doctors. Read all that you can and print out your questions.

3. If someone can come in with you to talk with the doctor, that is very helpful. It takes two sets of ears to hear everything and think up the next questions. It helps to walk in with written questions and to take notes. Ask the doctor if you can tape the conversation.

4. Keep a log of all medicines (even over-the-counter) and vitamins you currently take and tell the doctor. Some of these may need to be stopped. I took a large amount of Vitamin C and learned later that this may feed the malignant cells. Vitamin E can make you bruise and aspirin (and other products with aspirin) can make you bleed more.

5. Pay all your bills before your surgery. You may not feel up to it for a week or so afterward, and you don’t want to have overdue bills on your mind. I set up automated payments on untility websites and even for my charge cards and this eliminated missed payments and penalty interest fees.

6. Go to the market and stock up on recommended foods.

7. I created a list of family and friends (phone numbers and email lists) for my husband to contact following my surgery. It gave him something positive to do and kept them up-to-date.

8. If you are going to have chemotherapy, they suggest you buy your wig prior to losing your hair. This way they can match the color and possibly the style of your hair. You might want to get some hats or scarves to wear, too. I also liked the sleep caps-kept my head warm at night. Get a prescription for the wig – many insurance companies pay at least a part.

9. During chemotherapy you are not supposed to have dental work done. Get your appointment before you start chemo if you can.

10. For mastectomy patients: buy some large button-down-the-front shirts. You won’t be able to lift your arms up to slip on a nightgown or a shirt. You will have drainage tubes following surgery and your usual blouses are not large enough to accommodate them. I also bought some larger than usual pajamas. Be sure the sleeves on all items are large – you’ll have swelling and limited range of motion.

11. I spent a lot of time on the sofa in front of the TV. Our sofa has a recliner function and I’ve learned from other women that using a recliner is very comfortable. You can lean back, elevate your legs, and your arms have a good place to rest. We rearranged our living room just for my recovery.

12. I kept a written log of all medications. When you have pain pills, you become drowsy and may not clearly remember when you took your medicine.

13. Get a variety of reading material. I read funny books and bought magazines for the short articles. I did not have the concentration span to read more literary works.

14. Here’s a tip from a friend named Eva: “A couple of things I found helpful: relaxation tapes and movies from a video store. Movies I had loved some time ago or movies I had missed or comedies. Definite no brainers. The first relaxation tape I got was from the local Wellness Community. Then I found that relaxation tapes of all sorts are available at bookstores. But it can be costly to buy and try and then not like them. I found using a Walkman where the sound went right into me and not into the room was more relaxing than on a Boom Box. Also books on tape are available at local libraries.”

15. Let others know if you are up to company or if you need to just go to sleep. People are very understanding.

16. Make sure you won’t have to lift anything heavy. If you are going to be alone for a period of time, check to see that you have all supplies within easy reach. I could not have opened a can of soda or lifted a full container of Snapple initially. If a small glass was poured for me, I could manage that. This weakness does not last too long, but it feels like a long time!

17. If you receive chemotherapy, you may have a metallic or a bad taste in your mouth for several days following treatment. Meanwhile, you may be nauseous and you are still encouraged to drink a lot and eat! I found I could tolerate white peaches and canned peaches in a light syrup. Potatoes worked, too. For the metallic taste, I had: Popsicles, Slurpees (frozen slush drinks at the 7-11 store), hard candy and sorbet. The sorbet was a good idea because it had a mild flavor and no milk products. Although I used to drink diet sodas, the taste seemed awful to me and instead I drank regular soda. These products helped me some, but nothing really takes it away. Caution: you must remember to keep your teeth brushed and rinse your mouth with salt water.

18. If you’d like to regain full movement of your arms, going to a good physical therapist is useful. When you make the appointment, try to talk with a person on staff to learn who has worked with patients with your type of cancer. Mastectomy patients have special needs, and that includes range of motion and someone knowledgeable in lymphadema. Check with your insurance company to see if you need pre-approval and how many sessions they will cover.

19. You’ll have lots of bills from different doctors and miscellaneous services. It may be helpful to keep a spreadsheet of bills, what insurance paid and when. I found duplicate billings and improper payment of claims. It is something you don’t want to worry about, and you’ll keep it all straight if you keep organized. Keep a written log of all calls, the dates you called, the person you reached, and what they said. If insurance is giving you problems, call and ask for a supervisor’s help. They can review the claims and be sure they are paid properly.

20. Cancer messes with your mind. Be prepared for sleepless nights, worries, fear, and depression. If it gets out of hand or even if it doesn’t, mention it to your doctor. Some people take anti-depressants to help get them through this time. I have experienced all the textbook emotions. I also know I will ultimately be OK, and I have a wonderful husband and son who support me and great family and friends. {I first wrote this during my treatment, but decided to leave it in as a reminder of how I felt.} There are also some wonderful support groups available in almost every community. There is significant data stating that survival rates increase when people join support groups.

Cancer Sites and Organizations:

There is a great book by Dr. Susan Love about breast diseases. You can look it up on

The American Cancer Society has a good page about diseases of the breast, etc. You can also call them for information at 1-800-ACS-2345. The ACS sponsors a free class, “Look Good...Feel Better” including makeup tips for cancer patients. Call your local chapter to register.

The National Cancer Institute has a lot of links including information about testing for cancer.

Health Talk Interactive

Cancer Survivors Online

Medical Insights on Breast Cancer has lots of great links and a risk calculator

The National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC)

Breast Cancer Network of Strength (Formerly Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization) Information, support and political action. 24 hour hotline is called "Your Shoes":
1-800-221-2141 (English)*
1-800-986-9505 (Español)
*Interpreters available in 150 languages

Available 24-hours a day, "YourShoes" offers the only hotline in the United States staffed by trained peer counselors who are breast cancer survivors. YourShoes is a convenient, anonymous resource for breast cancer and breast health information. Support is provided to anyone touched by or concerned about this disease. Callers can be matched with a survivor, patient and/or supporter who have had a similar experience with breast cancer.

Young Survival Coalition - for people diagnosed under age 40

Breast Cancer Connections (BCC - formerly known as the Community Breast Health Project or CBHP) in Palo Alto offers lots of information and support groups. The Helpline hours are listed on their website.
390 Cambridge Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94306
Phone: (650) 326-6686


Circle of Hope Lymphedema Foundation
36 Woodcrest Drive
Prospect, CT 06712
Tel. 203.758.6138

National Lymphedema Network
Latham Square
1611 Telegraph Avenue, Suite 1111
Oakland, CA 94612-2138
Hotline: 800-541-3259
Direct: 510-208-3200
Fax: 510-208-3110

Local Lymphadema Specialists:

Los Gatos, Community Hospital, Janet Nelson 408-866-4059 – OT at a Lymphadema Center San Jose – Ginger Kay Center 408-286-1900

Plastic Surgery:

Plastic Surgery Information Service has information about Breast Reconstruction

Kelo-cote Gel for scar prevention, scar treatment, scar removal (My Plastic Surgeon recommended this as he’d been pleased with the results. My surgery was in 2000, so there may be some other products out there.)

Beauty, Wigs and Hats:

Wigs by Headcovers Unlimited has wig information and plenty of hats, etc. you can order online. The American Cancer Society also has a booklet for these items.

I found that my skin became dryer and very pale. The circles under my eyes were very dark. I usually use Clinique Under Eye Concealer, but found I needed something more. Through the Look Good, Feel Better program I received several different types of makeup. I especially like the Mary Kay Full Coverage Concealer. You can find it online at or call 1-800-MARY-KAY. (I have a relative, Carol Ungerleider, who sells this on her website.) I lost most of my eyebrows and used either an eyebrow pencil that is waxy (not like a regular pencil) or Benefits brand eyebrow wax. You can find Benefits brand at department stores.

Last modified 2010

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