#81 How to Navigate the Pandemic and Boost Your Immunity While You Recovery From Breast Cancer

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Waking up one day a healthy happy lady and you go to bed a breast cancer survivor and waking up in your “normal“ life and going to bed in a pandemic. 

But surprisingly...there are a lot of similarities, like, isolation, financial concerns, feeling powerless and living in the unknown. 

In this show we’ll talk about navigating those similarities as well as whether or not you should be concerned about the state of your immunity along with simple steps and powerful herbs you can take to support your immune system and your mental well being during this challenging time. 


The American Cancer Society




Read Transcript Below:

Hello and welcome to episode 81 of the breast cancer recovery coach podcast I'm your host Laura Lummer and you guys I feel like I haven't talked to you forever okay we're living through the pandemic and that is so Bazaar in so many ways and I need to talk about that for a moment here.


There's so much happening constantly does constant change going on oddly enough at the same time that we're experiencing constant change we're experiencing living in a complete state of not knowing just rolling with the unknown here. And because there's no structure time I mean not near the structure that we're used to in our daily lives it's very easy to lose track of time.


 Even though I record these podcasts weekly I just felt like I hadn't said something so long because it's so much has changed and I had to check and I was thinking my podcast was late so so weird to have such a seemingly long distance.


So today we're going to talk about how to take care of ourselves and address a couple of really important issues with respect to what's happening to us right now and you know it's a really fascinating thing because there are crazies were there natural disasters or other things throughout the world and that I've seen in the course of my life but I've never witnessed something that I know no matter where you're listening from in this world you're experiencing it to 1st and experiencing it right not hearing a disaster that happened somewhere else feeling bad for those people and going on with your regular lot all of our lives are being impacted across the entire Globe right now that's pretty mind-boggling that is a huge impact and huge shift for a lot of people.


However with respect to us as breast cancer survivors is I think a few unique parallels compared to what we're going  through now and what we've been through in breast cancer treatment and you may be listening to this while you're still in treatment I'm going to talk to you as well about some specifics as we get into the show and we begin to talk about our immune systems because I know that's a big concern right now when I talk about what cancer does to our immunity what cancer treatment does to our immunity and I know that I've been concerned for a lot of survivors out there is do I have a weakened immune system technically, scientifically, did the studies show that I have a weakened immune system I'll talk about that but I'm going to also talk about intuitively and through your life experience since cancer treatment how do you feel your immune system is because this is an important to you as well not just are you freaking yourself out and thinking something wild but we'll talk about getting a tattoo that intuitively and what that looks like because y'all know that my perspective is you are the expert on your own body and although I appreciate studies you no idea I also realized that I study is just looking at certain populations of people it's samplings of people and we don't all fit into those sample sizes so we'll get more into immunity and I'm going to talk to you about some simple steps you can take to boost your immune system and protect yourself during this time we want a little more immunity.


Let’s talk for a minute about the similarities between cancer treatment and living in a pandemic.


Last November I did a show with a few other cancer survivors and since then we've kept in touch and during this pandemic there's been a group text going around and one of the guys in this group text is really funny and he created a meme and I was cracking up because the meme was basically someone who'd been through cancer now going through the pandemic and just kind of looking out at everybody else and the subtitle said first time?


And especially at the time when I received it I thought it was funny because I had had so many conversations just that very day with various cancer survivors who were telling me they were having anxiety, because this is reminding them of when they were in treatment and as I said earlier if you are still in treatment you're really going through a double whammy right now.


because you’re living in the unknown on multiple fronts and that’s the most uncomfortable place to be for just about every human being it takes time to settle into that space and be very present. 

You have to intentionally decide to stop running scenarios of what might be coming because you have no idea and deciding to just do the best you can right here right now, to get through this s*** and getting back to life. 


That's how we're living now we have no guarantees.

Some of you are working from home, some people have lost their jobs, some  have had to close their businesses. Strgange, scary times that flipped on us so fast we didn’t have time to think about it.


So where I live, I have a balcony that overlooks a walkway and a lot of people stroll by here so I can overhear a lot of conversations as I’m sitting here working from my computer with my sliding glass door open.


Often what I hear is first a little bit of fear, or marveling at what a bizarre experience going through a pandemic is, but it's almost immediately followed in every conversation that I've overheard by...it'll get better, it's only temporary, it'll all go back to normal, it's just a matter of time.


And I think its pretty cool how resilient people can be.

And the truth is that we know whatever is coming... when the shelters  in place or the quarantines get lifted... we'll figure things out and we will move forward.


I love listening to that and hearing how people believe and realize that life is always evolving and changing and this will change as well.


What I also hear people saying is…”isn't this kind of nice though?

Isn't it kind of cool that you really don't have to be anywhere and we get to chill out for a while?

It's kind of nice to hear the quiet

It's kind of nice to be able to slow down.


And who has all the damn toilet paper??


And I love hearing that too..everything other than the toilet paper.

because that tells me that we’re getting a little bit past the Initial freak out phase of getting shut down across the world and we’re moving into this settling in phase. We’re noticing the beauty in becoming a little more present and realizing that living in the moment, being here being present cuz you can't be anywhere else for most of us...we’re realizing there's a feeling of peace in that.


Still, it's not always easy is it our minds are always future forecasting they're always predicting what's coming they're always thinking about what happened and what's going to happen but we're very rarely in a situation where we’re told don't do anything, stay.right. there .


It’s especially difficult when a lot of fearful news and potential stressors are fueling that isolation, but I’m going to say it again...girl you’ve already been there. 


Looming stressors, financial impact, isolation, fear, shelter in place….you know that your mind and the thoughts you choose to go with right now will decide how you’re experience in this crisis will be.


So I want to give you a couple of tips on managing the current situation and then we're going to jump in to talking about immunity.

1-Use this time To do the things that will set you up for success and for a healthier lifestyle once the world starts revolving again. don't just get up roll out onto the couch and start watching Netflix.

Actually determine a Time for movie watching or mine was television and commit to yourself to do intentional things that serve you and support your health outside in that time.


I love a post I saw on Instagram the other day for people who have children and it said that are you feeling guilty for having your kids watching too much TV turn off the volume, turn on the subtitles and Bam you've got them reading. So if you do have children and they are of reading age that may be a helpful tip for you to because you don't have the distraction of the sound of the TV going on around you all the time.


  1. keep some structure to your day get up and shower and you can still put on your cozy clothes in your yoga pants but feel good about yourself. 


We need to have purpose in our lives and when we get up and we get cleaned and get dressed as if we have somewhere to be we're more likely to be more intentional throughout the day. 


You might find yourself more motivated to clean out the closet or go to the drawers or start up a crafty kind of wash that lethargy off of you and that's an important thing to do.


 for myself and for many people who I know that work from home and makes a big difference When you start your day washed and refreshed with clean clothes on as opposed to staying in your jammies and keeping the sleep on you and you really have a tendency to feel kind of gross by the end of the day that might be a treat now and then but as a regular habit and a routine and especially when there  are so many potential stressors around us right now it's really important to do the things I keep you feeling light and purposeful.


 just like having a specific time for the television we want to have certain boundaries in my life that helps our brain to function better if we keep things orderly, if we keep some structure, if we stick to similar bedtimes and wake times during this. Of shelter at home it supports our health by keeping your circadian rhythm stable but also by helping you have that defined time of when work ends and relaxing begins or when cleaning end or when project begins start it finish it and have these very structured boundaries it really does help to keep the mind more clear and for you to feel as if you've been productive.


3.This may seem like time for a spring break at the refrigerator meaning that I'm on vacation mentality.. so I'm just going to have that because hey I'm on vacation 


In truth this is a very good time to get your diet in check


It’s an excellent time to begin practicing some mindful eating because you do have a little bit more time to sit down and really start paying attention to what you're putting into your body. 


It's an excellent time to try a new plant-based recipe. The internet abounds with recipes so there's no excuse not to try something new and see how you can incorporate more vegetables or plant-based items into your life. 


When there's already stress around us and we're not feeling productive and functional and eating crappy... you’re create a huge potential for depression for feeling just lethargic and gross. In addition to that, long term stress can impact your immune system by lowering your lymphocyte levels. These are cells that help you fight off viruses.


So use this time to pay attention and maybe get yourself set up on a food prep routine or do a refrigerator and kitchen cupboard audit.


Get your food supply cleaned out so that when you go to the fridge it's offering you things that serve your body and not the things that undermine it.


  1. Definitely keep your body moving

This is the time to take 20 or 30 minutes for yourself and just do a restorative yoga practice, take extra walks or extra runs check out all of the free workouts that are online I see Orangetheory, CorePower Yoga, personal trainers, dance instructors...all kinds of people are posting free work at home workouts and this is a great time to take advantage of them and maybe find something that you enjoy doing.


So do a little bit of Googling and try something new and fun to keep your blood flowing today.


Since we're about to talk specifically about immunity I just want to point out that the previous four tips are all things that support your wellness and strengthen your ability have a positive outlook, which has been shown to strengthen immunity.


Of course eating well and incorporating lots of Fresh Foods into your body strengthen your immunity, keeping your body moving is one of the most amazing therapies for your overall health and a huge immunity booster 


SO keep your space uncluttered, your cupboards cleaned up and your body active. 


The first tip about eliminating distractions just helps you to get these other three to be more top-of-mind.


Now let's talk about the actual science behind our immune system and what happens to it when we go through cancer treatment,  how long it takes for it to recover, and how long you should consider yourself to be on the immune-compromised list.


So, obviously there are no studies about how having cancer affects your immune system prior to going into treatment because either A you don’t know you have cancer or B you just found out and it would be inhumane to take the time to study you rather than treat you.


However, The american Cancer Society does have a page on their website that talks about how cancer itself can affect your immunity.

This happens with certain cancers that impact bone marrow or that cause immune cells to act out against your body. So what we’re really looking at here is how do cancer treatments affect your immunity and how long does that immunosuppression last? 

They also say that large tumors can harm other tissues or decrease blood flow which can also impact your immunity.


So  let's take a look at how cancer treatments affect immunity and how long the immune system may need for full recovery.


We’ll start off with surgery because just about all of us have been through that.


According to breast cancer.org surgery does impact your immune system.


 Going under anesthesia and having your body cut into a rose and very stressful events we know that stress is an immunosuppressant.


Again that's why we're always being told to practice stress reduction/
The higher your stress level the lower your immune system.


 Also  you have a lot of inflammation after going through surgery. 


Although inflammation is a necessary part of the healing process it is also very taxing on the immune system.


As far as how long it take for your immune system to recover after surgery there’s not a lot of concrete information at this point. 


The recovery and response time really depends on the individual and it has a very broad range that goes from a few weeks to a few months. 


I did read some articles that were talking about developing blood test to identify specific markers that could indicate a patient’s recovery probability to their surgeon but that's still in the works. 


So at this point...everyone is different and full immune recovery could take several months.


This includes lumpectomies, mastectomies and reconstructive surgery. Any procedure that includes general anesthesia and cutting into your body is going to have an impact on your immune system.


And we’ll talk shortly about ways to give yourself a boost.


If you also have lymph nodes removed during that surgery. you are more susceptible to infections on that specific side of your body basically for the rest of your life. 


Of course the number of lymph nodes removed would impact the severity of immunosuppression on that side of the body even if it was just one or two it still changes the nature of immunity on that side of the body which I think is fascinating.


Now, I am not a doctor but as far as I can find in studies, the removal of lymph nodes would not weaken your immunity in response to something you inhaled like a virus. But if you're concerned about that, definitely ask a qualified medical professional.


So what about radiation. Radiation is obviously a stressor so refer to the stress reduction info that one.


The important thing to remember about your immune system is that the majority of your white blood cells...which protect you from viruses and bacteria are made in your bones. Some specialized ones are made in the spleen and in your lymph nodes but for the most part your bones are your blood factory.


So according to breast cancer.org and the american cancer society, the changes in skin can create cracks and burns that make you more susceptible to infection but unless radiation is directed at your bones especially the large blood producing ones, your immune system should recover relatively quickly, over a week or two.

Agan I’m going to keep reminding you everyone is different and I am not a doctor so you could have other situations and medications going on that may impact white blood cell production. Always check with your doctor if you’re concerned.


Now of course we all know that chemotherapy has a big impact on our immune system and that is so big and complex that I’m not going to go into how it impacts us. I’m going to concentrate on what the studies say about how our immune system recovers.


This actually pretty interesting because according to Sloan Kettering, breast cancer.org, and the Mayo Clinic, your immune system should bounce back in about a month.
But a study published in 2016 by BioMed Central, a science technology and medicine publisher, found that early stage breast cancer survivors who received certain chemotherapy agents fo und that these women’s immune systems had not returned to their normal level of functioning 9 months after their treatment had ended.

Now they could say that these women were at a higher risk for illness or Infection because their whaite blood cell counts were within a normal range, they just weren’t back to what they had been prior to chemotherapy.

So more information and studies in this area are needed.


Now, I love science...you know that, but I also love intuition and self awareness. SO you’ve heard the science but I encourage you to know turn inward.

Check in with yourself and notice how you feel.

For example, I know that even 8 years after BCT I get sick ALL the time. I have to be very careful to stay in balance and stay away from sick people. Not just because I notice how easily I get sick now, but when I catch something it has a tendency to hit me hard.

Now I don’t like to dwell on that because I don’t want to create a limiting belief about myself. but I am aware of it and therefore I practice caution. 

You are the expert on you...never forget that.


Ok so let’s wrap this up with what simple things you can do to boost your immune system.


Now I know y'all know that you have to keep your hands washed...right we all know the 20 second rule so stick with it. It’s important.

Getting the right amount of sleep is critical to supporting a strong immune system and that’s important now because a lot of people are like kids on summer vacation. But sticking to good sleep routines and practicing good sleep hygiene are important for you immunity to try to stay regular.


The ancient and powerful Ayurvedic immune booster Chyavanprash is an excellent addition to your nutrition plan now not just because of covid- 19 but because it’s cold and flu season and because most of us don’t get all the nutrients we need from our diets anyway. Chavanprash can be used as a jam or melted into a tea. It’s yummy and it's packed with vitamin c and other adaptogenic or restorative herbs.


Get some sunshine every day...well as long as there is sun where you live. Keep your vitamin D levels nice and high but also because getting out in the sun is a stress reducer and we’ve already discussed how important that is.

Guduchi, Tinospora cordifolia. In ayurveda, Guduchi is known as amrit or the divine nectar. It’s used to support immunity, manage blood sugar and cholesterol and it’s actually an ingredient in chyawanprash.
Please now that guduchi can interact with some pharmaceuticals so always check with your dr before you take it if you are on any other medications.


Finally I want to encourage you again, to find joy in each and every day. Set an intention to look for the things in your life that make you smile and bring you joy. Happiness is healing. It’s immune boosting and it makes tough times a little easier.


Remember, we are all in this together and I truly believe that we’re all going to come out of this more conscious of ways that we can support each other.


So be good to yourself and check on your neighbors and I’ll talk with you again next week...who knows what might be happening then...kinda exciting to wonder.


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