Fun time with your family can give you a mood boost. But with breast cancer, you might want to make some changes.
The key: Keep it simple.
“I always tell my patients, ‘You don’t have to plan these elaborate outings,’” says Eleonora Teplinsky, MD, head of breast medical oncology at Valley Health System in Paramus, NJ. “If you’re a parent and you’re going through chemotherapy or any sort of cancer treatment, your children just want to spend time with you.”
Get started with these five ideas.
Pick up a paint brush and tap into your artistic side.
Alexea Gaffney-Adams, MD, did that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018 at age 37. She wanted to create many happy memories with her then 6-year-old daughter, Kennedy.
“We would try to do a lot of mommy-and-me activities that weren’t too strenuous,” says Gaffney-Adams, a single mom and doctor in Stony Brook, NJ.
If you have the energy, you can go out to a paint-and-sip gathering. Or stay home and be comfy. Or just grab some coloring books.
“We used to go to the craft store, and we’d buy a bunch of canvases, brushes, and acrylic paint. Then, we would draw pictures and paint [at home], especially if the weather was bad,” Gaffney-Adams says.
She’s cancer-free after a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
Make Off-Peak Hours Your Prime Time
With cancer — and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic — you want to avoid crowds.
“If the person is actively undergoing chemo or radiation, they can be immunosuppressed and will need to avoid large crowds and sick people,” says Jovita Oruwari, MD, a breast surgeon at SSM Health DePaul Hospital-St. Louis.
So do fun things during off-hours.
Tara Watts, a 36-year-old elementary school teacher in New Jersey, does that with her husband and five children. Diagnosed with stage III breast cancer in April 2021, Watts is getting chemotherapy. Avoiding infections is top of mind for her.
“We have gone to Six Flags on the days I know it will be less crowded,” she says. “So we go during the week or go for a few hours in the evening during off-peak hours. We also go on cloudy or chillier days when most people are like, ‘We’re not going.’”
Roller coasters are also something Gaffney-Adams and her daughter enjoy. What better place to let loose?
Cook Something Up Together
“I always let Kennedy help me cook,” Gaffney-Adams says.
“We had to come up with a lot of new, interesting recipes because food starts tasting weird to you when you’re going through chemo. So you try to make healthier choices or make choices that give you less side effects or give you the nutrition you need.”
You definitely don’t need to add more tasks to your life while you’re going through cancer treatment. So make family cooking easier on yourself.
A meal box subscription can make this more convenient. All the ingredients come to your doorstep.
“We got one [delivery] a week. It didn’t blow our budget and it made mealtime special,” Gaffney-Adams says. “We would prep all the food and cook the meals together. It gave us something exciting to look forward to.”
Make Time for Nature
Doing things outside can be relaxing, active, and fun for everyone. Plus, it’s better than indoor activities during the pandemic, Teplinsky notes.
“We would run to the beach and take our beach mat, a couple of snacks or dinner, and we would just sit and watch the sunset together,” Gaffney-Adams says. “I got to relax.”
The Watts family likes being out in nature, too. “We like doing things outdoors like going for bike rides, walks, and going to the beach,” says Chris Watts, Tara’s husband. “The beach is a very big thing in our house.”
No beach? No problem. Head to a local park.
Watch Movies Under the Stars
Your backyard beats the cineplex. You can bring your own snacks, the floors aren’t sticky, and there’s no hassle with traffic or parking!
Use a projector screen or play the movie on a personal device.
“We would set up these little pop-up tents and put on a movie on our iPad or laptop and sit outside in the backyard and watch a movie under the stars in the dark,” Gaffney-Adams says.
“While we have spent a lot of time at home because of how I was feeling, we had lots of movie nights,” Tara Watts says.
“The joy I get from being with my family in moments like these is really what’s kept me going. It gives me strength.”
Presence Over Perfection
Remember, just being present goes a long way.
“As we’ve seen during COVID, kids are resilient and strong. They are able to handle what comes at them,” Teplinsky says. “And as long as they know that Mom or Dad is there, and they’re loved, then they are going to be OK.”