10 Things That Helped Me Show Up for Chemo As My Best Self

From my “game-day uniform” to a playlist that made me feel ready to seize the day, here’s what helped me prepare for my days in cancer treatment.

When I faced triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) at 28, I would soon learn the importance of controlling what I could as I navigated my new life as an adolescent/young adult (AYA) cancer patient. My initial treatment plan included a biweekly regimen of neoadjuvant dose-dense ACT chemotherapy followed by surgery, and I could feel my mindset intensifying daily leading up to the start of it all.

On Oct. 19, 2020, I began treatment and discovered the importance of finding my own rhythm of resilience to show up as my best self on these hard days.

Here are 10 things that helped me show up — and continue showing up — for chemotherapy:

1. I cut my hair. Two days after my port procedure — and days before I started chemotherapy — I proactively cut my long brownish-blonde hair and donated it. My oncologist and nurses advised that it would be gone in a few short weeks anyway, and I was not the same person who got the call weeks before. My external appearance now reflected this internal evolution as I prepared to step in the ring for battle.

2. I dug into my “why” and controlled what I could. I reminded myself that each chemo day was one small step forward in the mission to beat TNBC. I knew that I needed to show up to beat this beast, but how I showed up was up to me. This led to a vibrant mindset of determination and gratitude. I began sharing “Monday Motivations” that would stem from my experiences each week.

3. I started a kindness challenge. Besides my “why” of beating TNBC, my life mantras have always been to “seize the day” and “make an impact.” So I launched the Chemo to Kindness℠ Challenge on the day I started chemotherapy. This challenge encouraged my community to do 1,600 acts of kindness during my 16 weeks of treatment and tell me about it on social media. Before each chemo appointment, I would give a live update and get flooded with notifications of acts of kindness being done around the world in my honor. The challenge lifted me up while spreading awareness in the name of good.

4. I wore my “game-day uniform.” Thanks to two generous friends, I was given two port sweatshirts that I regarded as my “game-day uniform.” I loved having my port sweatshirt ready to go on chemo days, and my team appreciated that I wore a garment that was accessible for us to conquer the day. I also wore comfortable workout pants, sneakers and bracelets with positive words and affirmations.

5. I did my makeup. Even though masks were mandatory due to COVID-19, I did my makeup each chemo morning like I was going to pitch to the Sharks. It helped boost my self-esteem and made me feel good to get ready for the day.

6. I made a playlist for chemo mornings and hospital drives. It was helpful to have empowering songs in one place so I could listen to whatever I needed that day. I would start the playlist when I got in the shower that morning and continue listening on the drive. The playlist included all genres and even featured my husband’s favorite song in case he needed a boost. Some songs included “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman, “Chapters” by Brett Young and “We Ready” by Archie Eversole.

7. I took a shower with aromatherapy soap. Before leaving for the hospital, I would wake up and shower to start my day with soaps that calmed my senses. Mix this with the playlist, dancing and some air punches, and you can imagine the energy I was bringing into these days. This soap was especially helpful when my hair started to fall out, too. Control what you can, remember?

8. I packed my bag the night before. I made sure to always bring my water bottle with a plastic mouth, snacks, gum or ginger candies, a phone charger, a notebook, a blanket, music or reading materials…and thank you cards. When you shift your mindset from “this sucks to be sitting in a cancer chair” to gratitude for life and others, it makes a world of difference.

9. We put the good in chemo days. Each chemo morning between getting labs and starting chemo, we popped down to the hospital cafeteria for a short breakfast date. If you know you are showing up for a hard day, try to find a way to reward or treat yourself.

10. I accepted help from others. On the first day of chemo, I shared my GiveInKind website that organized meal requests and gifts during treatment. The love and support from others was astounding and eased our worries immensely. My family also supported me at home. It’s not always easy to accept, but it is ok to ask for help.

Bonus 11. I tapped into my resilience. Shortly before I was diagnosed, I read Diane Couto’s article, “How Resilience Works” in Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Managing Yourself. Diane’s article boiled down resilience to three parts: face it head on, find your meaning, and continually improvise.

While every person’s journey and experience is unique to them, it is important to find your own unique rhythm of resilience. Chemotherapy and its accompanying side effects are hard enough without the added weight we put on ourselves. You can prepare for these hard days with your own list of favorite things that invigorate your senses and put you in the right mindset to show up as your best self.

Control what you can and know you are never alone in this fight.

If this resonates with you or a loved one facing cancer, please share this message. To connect with Lorelei, visit www.loreleicolbert.com.

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