How to Have Fun in the Sun Despite Breast Cancer
As part of our Self Care blog series, we invited breast cancer advocate, fashion designer, and AnaOno founder Dana Donofree to share her advice for enjoying your summer despite the challenges you may face from breast cancer treatment.
Trying to enjoy the summer weather during and after treatment was one of the most unexpected challenges I faced after my breast cancer diagnosis.
In the summers before my diagnosis, I would regularly lounge by the pool, lather myself in baby oil, and enjoy myself in a pretty carefree way. I wasn’t particularly worried about the redness that developed on my shoulders, thighs, and nose. Many of us have been there, ending up with a sunburn that made you wish you had spent just one less hour in the lounge chair, or actually reapplied your sunscreen. After cancer, those days are long gone.
I had chemotherapy treatment during the summertime when I lived in Colorado. If you’ve been to Colorado in the summer, you’ll know it’s far from the wintery wonderland that the state is often thought of, at least where I lived in the plains. I learned quickly that the increase in elevation makes it easier to get sunburned. Couple that with hot flashes, a bald head, dry skin, and breast expanders, and you get a recipe for a disastrous summer!
So that you can learn from my mistakes and avoid these summertime struggles, I’ve put together some tips for how you can safely and confidently have fun in the sun during and after your breast cancer treatment.
Since you have to prioritize your health and wellbeing during and after treatment, you should limit your time in the sun. Keep in mind, you should protect yourself not only from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, but also its heat, as dehydration and exhaustion can result from excessive sun exposure. And don’t get me started on those hot flashes — they will really have you seeking the shade!
So like me, you should learn how to take cover. Finding shade is not always easy, but if you’re poolside or on a beach, an umbrella is a must. Having some shade to keep you cool and protect you from the sun will allow you to enjoy the outdoors a bit longer.
But even if you’re in the shade, don’t overdo it — if you feel hot, take a break. Seek some air conditioning in a coffee shop or restaurant to cool down and relax. And if taking cover isn’t an option, wear a beach cover-up and make sure you have a sunhat — the bigger the better!
SPF is your new best friend
Fun fact: It can take just 15 minutes for the sun to harm your skin, even though it can take up to 12 hours for a sunburn to appear.
No matter who you are, you should use a sunscreen with a high SPF rating to protect your skin from the sun and reduce your risk of skin cancer and premature aging. But for those who’ve been treated for cancer, wearing sunscreen with a high SPF rating is especially important, as some treatments can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.
A high SPF number in your daily facial moisturizer is important for regular sun protection and for preventing wrinkles, and using a daily body lotion with a high SPF number is a great idea for extra protection. And a high SPF number in your sunscreen for a day at the beach is non-negotiable. Studies show that products with an SPF of 30 are best, and that higher SPFs don’t work any better.
Make sure you’re applying enough sunscreen for it to be effective. People often apply only half of the recommended amount, which gives you only half of the product’s SPF protection. For example, if you apply only half as much SPF 30 sunscreen as you should, you'll only get the protection of an SPF 15. And don't forget your lips — there are many lip balms with high SPF ratings.
I personally liked using tinted body lotions with a high SPF when hanging out during the summer. During chemo, I felt like my skin had become kind of “see-through” — the tone was a bit grey, and I could see my veins in my arms and legs, so a little tint was a nice touch to help even things out.
My new best friend now is the CC cream from Thrive Causemetics that has a built in SPF and I wear it every day. I wish I had it during treatment! It evens out my uneven skin tone (which especially helps with redness from hot flashes) and provides a layer of protection. It’s also vegan, cruelty-free, and doesn’t contain parabens or sulfates. I have no ties to the company — I just really love this product.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Dehydration was another difficult side effect I dealt with during my treatment — I was always so thirsty!
It got so serious, I was in the emergency room every weekend after my infusion due to dehydration. I would drink and drink and drink some more and felt I couldn’t absorb anything at the same time.
Fortunately, not everyone suffers from serious dehydration, but if you are going to spend more time in the sun, you must drink water and stay hydrated. I couldn’t drink Gatorade or sports beverages during treatment because of mouth sores and sensitivity, but if you are able to tolerate them, or want just a little flavor, you can mix them with water to tone down the sweetness.
Find a swimsuit that makes you feel confident
Putting on a swimsuit for the first time since your mastectomy isn’t easy, to say the least! I was not at all ready to jump into a bikini and hit the pool. My square expanders had me feeling awkward and unattractive, especially since I had what I like to call my “building block boobs,” which didn’t fit into a bra let alone a bathing suit.
While finding a bra is hard after breast reconstruction, finding a bathing suit is 10 times harder! I did not look forward to going swimsuit shopping just to be let down that nothing fit my new body. But I had a honeymoon in Hawaii planned, so I had to get a bathing suit that fit. I shopped everywhere, but encountered the same exact problems I had with bras.
I ended up choosing a triangle bikini. My mastectomy scars poked out of the sides, but I loved how I looked in it otherwise. So, I decided I was just going to have to embrace it. Eventually I did, and tried my best to just not care what people would think. I was mostly nervous that the tiny triangle cup would slide off to the side and expose my nipple-less breast — which by the way, has happened once or twice.
This experience was a huge reason I designed and added swimwear to the AnaOno product line, because as I was dealing with this, I knew I was not alone, just as I felt when I started designing bras.
Later, I received stories from women, some with one breast and some with none, that became worried about what could be shown through a bathing suit at the pool. That’s when I knew we all needed better and more attractive swim options for our fun in the sun.
With AnaOno, I wanted to make sure women like me could find a bathing suit designed for their body. Maybe they had reconstruction, maybe they had none, or maybe they have a swim form they like to insert. I wanted to have an option for everyone in the collection that was sporty, fun, and made for our bodies, which I kept in mind while designing. Because we all deserve to have our fun in the sun and to feel confident doing it!
Appreciate the little things
Even though I didn’t have the best summer when I was undergoing treatment, I did eventually get my honeymoon! I wish I had these tips when I was undergoing my treatment, so I’m glad to have the chance to share what I have learned in the years following my diagnosis. Nice summer days may seem like little things, but during difficult times, the little things can really matter.
My parting advice for feeling your best this summer is: get out there, splash bigger than you have splashed before, take the leap off the high dive, read a book and relax, or take a much deserved nap — because you deserve it!
— Last updated on February 7, 2022, 6:23 PM