In our monthly column, senior writer and editor Adriana Ermter shares her personal experiences with breast cancer.
By Adriana Ermter
Self-care. It’s not a phrase that even flickered across my radar when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, let alone after my surgery or during treatment. But it should have. And, no, it’s not a selfish act.
Despite writing and editing beauty and grooming articles for men and women for about, oh I don’t know, over two decades, giving myself a little TLC when I could have used it the most didn’t even occur to me. (Insert the shaking-my-head emoji here.) But I wish it had. Having breast cancer made me feel out of control. I was scared, terrified of the unknown, in pain, exhausted from being my own and best advocate and I was going through immense emotional and physical trauma. I also knew that I couldn’t change my outcome, which was hard to wrap my head around. I had cancer. Period.
As much as I wanted to point the finger of blame inwards, to make sense of why I had the big C, there wasn’t and still isn’t a rational or behavioural explanation. Plus, as a divorced and single woman, I couldn’t stop thinking about how breast cancer could and would, compromise my future relationships. Would men think I was now damaged or unhealthy? Would I appear less pretty? And should I ever be in a serious relationship again, would the new man in my life consider my right breast ugly, scarred and scorched looking, because it is. With the Canadian Cancer Society predicting more than 26,300 new cases of breast cancer with 5,000 of these women dying from it this year, I know I’m not alone with these thoughts. This fact alone reinforces that truly embracing self-care during difficult times is not simply a suggestion, but rather a mandatory approach for survival.
So here are a few of my easy-to-do suggestions, because I hope you won’t be like me and will actually take the time to show yourself some kindness. These may be simple ideas with each one only requiring a few minutes of bathroom time each day, but know that you are worth it, as are the physiological and physical benefits.
Getting a fresh start to your day is more than just good hygiene. According to Medical Daily, hot showers stimulate the release of growth hormones which can help to rebuild damaged cells, detoxify your body by sweating out stress, increase oxytocin levels to ease anxiety and act as a decongestant helping to relieve cold and flu symptoms. Suds up with a favourite bar of soap or a scented shower gel that makes you feel good (just check with our doctor first to confirm that it’s safe to use scented products).
I Used: The Body Shop Pink Grapefruit Bath and Shower Gel, from $6 to $25, available at The Body Shop.
The skin on your face protects you from dirt, grime, pollutants and environmental stress, so it deserves a good clean every day. In addition, the American Academy of Dermatology says that exfoliating can prevent clogged pores and unwanted spots by eliminating dead skin cells and all that extra gunk, making it look brighter, feel softer and enhance the absorption of your facial lotion. You’ll be grateful that you did, as it will not only make you feel more like you, this cleaner version of your face will be smiling back at you from the reflection in your mirror.
I Used: e.l.f. Exfoliating Scrub, $7, available at Shoppers Drug Mart.
The skin on your face also loses moisture courtesy of the wind and sun, the thermostat and more. So Harvard Medical School recommends replenishing this water loss with beneficial ingredients like aloe vera and hyaluronic acid, which nourish your skin, leaving it feeling and looking soft and smooth.
I Used: Garnier’s Organic Argan Face Moisturizer for Dry and Sensitive Skin, $23.99, available at Shoppers Drug Mart.
Did you know that soaking your tired and aching muscles in a hot, soothing bath can increase your happiness? Neil Morris, a psychologist at the University of Wolverhampton says that bathing creates a sense of quiet and comfort. Add a cap full of foaming bath liquid complete with epsom salt, hemp seed oil, white thyme, cedarwood and bergamot essential oil to revitalize your body and simultaneously calm your mind, provide stress relief and moisturize your skin. Depending on where you’re at in your cancer care, double check with your physician that bathing is an acceptable form of self-care that you can safely participate in.
I Used: Dr. Teal’s Hemp Seed Foaming Bath with Pure Epsom Salt, $8.98, available at Walmart.
What comes in every colour in the rainbow? Skincare masks. And yes, you may look funny when you put them on, but according to the University of Pennsylvania Penn Medicine, they can also trap moisture and healing ingredients in your skin by creating a film that can hydrate, brighten, rejuvenate and replenish your face. And with all the time you spend sweating through Tamoxifen, worrying about biopsies and trying to create a sense of normalcy in your newly chaotic life, your skin deserves a little extra attention. Plus, the humour wearing a mask will bring when you look at yourself in the mirror while waiting for it to soak in is sure to tickle your funny bone.
I Used: Dermalogica Melting Moisture Masque, $92, available online at dermalogica.ca
Fact: your lips only have three to four outer layers compared to the 15 to 16 protective layers on the rest of your skin. Plus, Healthline says they are most susceptible to damage from the sun and other environmental factors, which means they dry out, crack, get chapped and peel faster and easier than any other body part. Help yours by regularly applying a hydrating and nourishing lip balm throughout the day.
I Used: Quo Beauty Avocado Lip Balm in “Coconut Cream,” $10, available at Shoppers Drug Mart.
The power of smell can actually help relax your body, if you’re using the right scents. According to John Hopkins Medicine, essential plant oils such as lavender, tea tree, peppermint and citrus (think: lemons, orange etc), can do everything from relieve anxiety to heal acne and give you a boost of happiness. So try using these essential oils when you want to unwind and tap into your zen place. But before you do, check with your medical care that the use of essential oils is appropriate for you.
I Used: Lotus Aroma Essential Oils Roll-on Blends in “Stress,” $18.99, available at Shoppers Drug Mart.
Adriana Ermter is a multi award-winning writer and editor. Her work can be read in Figure Skater Fitness and IN Magazine, as well as online at 29Secrets.com, RethinkBreastCancer.ca, Popsugar.com and AmongMen.com. The former Beauty Director for FASHION and Editor-in-Chief for Salon and Childview magazines lives in Toronto with her very spoiled cat, Trixie-Belle. You can follow Adriana on Instagram @AdrianaErmter
Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash