Boost Your Inner Beauty While Battling Cancer

We’ve all heard it: “Think positively.” But that kind of rosy advice can ring hollow when cancer patients are dealing with their most difficult days.Olympic figure skating gold medalist—and breast cancer survivor going on 13 years—Peggy Fleming says that while challenging days are inevitable, you’ve got to power through.“I know it’s really hard not to feel sorry for yourself,” Fleming tells YouBeauty. “But if you allow yourself to wallow in that, it’s a dark hole that can be hard to climb out of. If you push yourself to keep moving, to get outside and continue living, you’ll feel much better than if you just stay at home in your pajamas,” adds Fleming.Below, some helpful coping strategies that experts say are scientifically proven to help you face those tough days head-on, and actually make you feel better.QUIZ: How Healthy Do You Feel?Have a Sense of HumorIt may seem incredulous: you’ve got a cancer diagnosis, and we’re telling you to laugh about it? But humor is a phenomenon that has a measurable impact on the brain, according to Ph.D. candidate Kathryn Bouskill, who has studied its effects on breast cancer patients.Humor among cancer patients ranks often creates instant camaraderie, which is an especially effective coping mechanism. When patients laugh together, there’s evidence that regions of the brain associated with reward behavior and a positive outlook on life are stimulated. “Humor creates a mental distance from stress,” explains Bouskill.Professional makeup artist and breast cancer survivor Leslie Moore knows this firsthand. “Three of us about the same age in treatment called ourselves the ‘Chemo Cowgirls,’” says Moore of the group’s tradition of wearing cowboy boots to chemotherapy sessions. “We held each other up, and became each other’s cheerleaders. We’re the greatest of friends today.”Eat for HealthA diet designed to meet the demands and side effects of cancer treatments had the greatest impact on a sense of wellbeing for Rhonda Smith, founder of BreastCancerPartner.com, a site that provides support and resources for patients.“I found that feeling strong and healthy, and not like a cancer patient, was actually possible,” says Smith. A nutritionist recommended a cancer-fighting diet rich in leafy green cruciferous vegetables, like collard greens, bok choy and broccoli, as well as a switch to a plant-based diet that Smith found effectively combatted symptoms like nausea and fatigue.If you can’t afford a nutritionist, Smith recommends surfing CancerProject.org, a site dedicated to diet and cancer, which provides free guidance and recipes.MORE: Breast-Cancer Fighting MenuEmbrace Eastern PracticesIt’s common for patients to have lymph nodes removed to curb the spread of cancerous cells by what is essentially the body’s filtration system, yet doing so can stop areas of circulation in its tracks. Several experts we consulted suggest yoga as the ideal therapy, which encourages both breath and energy flow for better drainage, as well as a mind-clearing meditation.“Yoga movement releases endorphins and oxytocin, which I felt gave me energy and made me feel significantly better than on the days when I gave in and didn’t do anything,” says Smith, of two of the so-called “love” chemicals that the human body produces during orgasm. “If you feel better physically, it helps a lot with your mental state and emotions.”MORE: Your Guide to YogaDon’t Play Mr. Tough GuyActing tough may be an attitude egged on by a competitively-fueled society, but it can actually do mental damage when recovering from illness, says Susan Bauer-Wu, Ph.D., a former Harvard professor who specializes in psychoneuroimmunology in the context of cancer, and is author of “Leaves Falling Gently: Living Fully with Life-Limiting Illness Through Mindfulness, Compassion and Connectedness.”While resisting hurt through denial or pushing it away may seem helpful in the short run, Bauer-Wu says that confronting the source of pain can actually make you feel better. Whether it’s physical or emotional ache, finding where it’s centered, and breathing in and out of that area of the body, can be a helpful strategy to work through difficult moments. “This process allows you to be in control, so you can do something about it, such as take medication, change your position, or redirect your attention to something pleasant,” says the expert.Build a Support Group“No one should have to go through the cancer journey alone. Don’t be ‘too strong’ to ask for help,” says Glenda Standeven, a bone cancer survivor and motivational speaker who lost her right leg and hip to the disease, and who is an author along with two survivor friends of “Choosing to Smile“.Resources like The American Cancer Society and online chats and discussion boards are plentiful and often times inspiring refuges. When turning to family and friends for support, be specific with your requests for the most effective communication. “They won’t know that vacuuming is difficult for you after a mastectomy unless you tell them,” says Standeven.Also, know the difference between a support group—which is usually made up of a group of peers who may be experiencing the same emotional and physical trauma as yourself—and a professional counselor, who can offer more in-depth coping strategies if your needs are greater.

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