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Any cancer diagnosis is jarring to the patient and family. With women’s cancers – such as ovarian, uterine, or cervical cancer – the diagnosis can be particularly difficult.
Women often are the primary caregiver, family scheduler, and breadwinners of the home. When your life is disrupted by gynecologic cancer, everyone in the family is impacted.
Aside from concerns about their own health, women with cancer often pivot their worries to how they will manage personal and professional responsibilities during treatment:
- Who will take care of my projects at work?
- How will the kids get to and from practice?
- Will someone check on Aunt Susan?
1. Assemble your squad.
You do a lot for everyone around you – now it’s time to lean on your closest friends, family members, and co-workers for support. Start by making a two-column list. In the first column, list the daily household responsibilities that you manage – making meals, transporting kids to activities, taking elderly loved ones to doctor visits.
In column two, write the names of loved ones who can fill in for you in each task. Reach out to them when you are ready to discuss your diagnosis. Asking for help may be difficult, but you’ll likely find your loved ones are happy to help you and your family.
2. Reassign your work…or don’t.
Some patients with cancer decide to take time off work and focus on healing. Others continue working, for the distraction, pay, or both. Either approach can work if you are honest with yourself about your physical health, stress levels, and emotional well-being.
If you plan to take medical leave, talk with your team about how long you might be off work and who can cover your responsibilities. You don’t have to disclose personal health information to your colleagues if you don’t want to, and you only have to give your employer required information for insurance, sick leave, wellness programs, or workers’ compensation.
If you plan to work through treatment, you may still need to plan for a few days or weeks off to have cancer surgery and/or attend treatment appointments. Quiet the inner monologue that might urge you to take on extra work. While the distraction might be nice, the stress of balancing everything can wear you out. Listen to your body – delegate tasks when you feel fatigued or overwhelmed, and plan downtime instead of consistently bringing work home.
3. Ask for and accept support services.
You are remarkable, but none of us can do everything on our own. That’s why MedStar Health patients get the support of nurse navigators who act as health liaisons during cancer treatment.
Our nurse navigators are passionate about connecting patients with the expert specialists, support services, and financial and insurance information they need to complete cancer treatment.
Ask your nurse navigator about community resources, too. For example, there may be transportation, childcare, and meal services in your community to help relieve some of your daily stress. Start with this list from the American Cancer Society.
4. Avoid new, extreme diets and exercise plans.
Research shows that exercising during cancer treatment is associated with improved outcomes. However, there is no data to suggest that starting a hardcore diet or exercise routine will help you. In fact, injuries, fatigue, and the stress of shaking up your routine could potentially hinder your healing.
If you’re already a very active person such as a triathlete or marathoner, you might feel up to continuing rigorous workouts. But you might not, and you’ll have to be ok with that as your body heals.
As for diet, there is a persistent myth that tumors “feed on” sugar, growing larger with every carb or treat you consume. The truth is, all cells use glucose (sugar) for energy, and avoiding sugar is not associated with better cancer outcomes.
However, while there is no “super” food or supplement that can defeat cancer, eating a healthy diet is proven to support optimal healing, potentially reducing the risk of infection, giving you more energy, and maintaining a healthy weight.
During cancer treatment, a MedStar Health dietitian will guide you in eating a healthy diet. This expert may also recommend certain supplements to support general wellness, such as vitamin D for mental health and vitamins A, C, and E, which are antioxidants that can help boost your body’s natural defenses. Talk with your dietitian and doctor before taking supplements – overdoing it on certain vitamins or minerals may reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
5. Keep other health conditions in check.
Chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes don't go away when you develop cancer, and some may worsen due to stress or focusing on just your cancer care. However, unmanaged chronic conditions can cause serious complications, such as heart attack, stroke, or kidney problems.
Your oncologist will work with your primary care doctor and specialists to make sure all your health needs are covered during and after treatment. This includes your mental health, which may be particularly taxed during treatment. In fact, it’s not uncommon for patients to feel depressed during cancer treatment. If you need to see a psychologist or take antidepressant medication, we will connect you with personalized care, quickly and discreetly.
6. Ask questions and get answers.
No matter how big or small your question feels, your MedStar Health gynecologic oncologists are here to give you answers. We’re experts in female anatomy, women’s cancers, and effective treatments. If you’ve wondered about something, you can bet we’ve discussed it with many patients before.
Our gynecologic oncology specialists are board-certified and fellowship-trained in the diagnosis and management of specific types of women’s cancers. We combine that expertise with our multidisciplinary team of dietitians, radiation and medical oncologists, surgeons, and fertility specialists. These experts can give you specific insights into any question or concern you have. This team meets frequently to make sure every patient gets the best care.
If you want to learn about a clinical trial opportunity, please don’t hesitate to ask. As an academic medical center, we are on the forefront of the latest innovations in gynecologic cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment – often, we can offer the most cutting-edge treatments before they are available at other medical centers.
More than anything, we want to partner with you in achieving the best outcomes for your gynecologic cancer treatment. And that journey starts by entering treatment with as many outside stressors handled as possible.