Living with cancer comes with a lot of fear, anxiety and uncertainty. Whether you’re recently diagnosed, undergoing treatment, or a survivor, it’s important to practice self-care. By taking steps to address your overall physical and mental health, you’ll be better equipped to cope with the roller coaster of emotions you experience as a cancer patient.
Since August is National Wellness Month, this article will focus on wellness for cancer patients by sharing four components of good self-care.
- Stress Management
- Social Support
Good nutrition is a key to wellness for cancer patients. Your main goal before and during treatment is to maintain as much weight as possible. It’s also important to eat well after treatment to help in your recovery.
Since every cancer diagnosis is unique, it’s important to speak with your physician about a diet that’s best for you. Healthy nutrition typically consists of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and plenty of water. You may want to include a registered dietitian as part of your cancer care team. They can help you determine the best balance between these food groups.
In general, a proper diet will help you feel better overall mentally and physically. Eating the right foods before and during treatment can help cancer patients keep up their strength and energy. It can also make it easier to tolerate treatment-related side effects.
Some treatments have side effects that may affect your nutrition, such as loss of appetite, nausea, or difficulty swallowing. This resource from Stanford Healthcare has a comprehensive list of side effects and tips for managing them. Remember to consult with your doctor if you’re experiencing side effects or struggling to maintain your weight.
Years ago, many doctors prescribed “rest and reduced activity” for chronic illness. However, newer research shows exercise is safe and can actually improve quality of life and overall wellness for cancer patients.
First and foremost, discuss it with your physician before you start any exercise plan. How intense your exercise should be depends on your activity level before your cancer diagnosis. Talk to your doctor about what’s best for you to stay as active and fit as possible.
Staying active has shown many benefits for cancer patients. While it may seem like it could wear you down, exercise can actually help reduce fatigue. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network says patients who do some type of regular moderate physical activity are usually less tired, less depressed and sleep better at night. Remember, “moderate” intensity is relative to your individual fitness level and current health as a cancer patient. Talk to your doctor about what level of activity is right for you.
If you’re looking for ideas on how to stay active, consider doing something you enjoy to avoid becoming bored or burned out. In general, any activity that increases your heart rate is beneficial. It can be traditional aerobic exercise like daily walks around the neighborhood or riding a stationary bike. For some people, depending on their fitness level, it may just be moving their arms up and down while remaining seated. Household chores like gardening and cleaning also make great physical activity. In addition, you can ask your doctor about any exercise programs in your area specifically designed for cancer patients.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you stay hydrated and listen to your body. For more ideas for staying active, check out this article about exercise for seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coping with cancer can be one of the most stressful experiences of your life. When it comes to health and wellness for cancer patients, acknowledging your stresses and knowing where and how to get help for them is very important.
Three helpful tips for successful stress management:
- Listen to cancer survivors’ experiences to learn the most common feelings
- Recognize when you need to seek help in coping with your emotions
- Know where and how to get that help
When dealing with stress, it’s important to have an “active coping” mindset, rather than avoiding the problem. You can acknowledge the things that are causing stress by making a list. This makes them something tangible to overcome, rather than just a feeling. Also, seek out advice and information. Knowing more about the root of the stress can make it feel less intimidating.
Once you’ve done your research, make a plan to deal with the problem. It helps to involve others from your support system and be open about your feelings. Your friends and family will be more than willing to help if you just ask.
There are many things you can do to reduce stress, but they all focus around a common theme: self-care. Take time for yourself to do something you love. Just relax with a good book or go get a message (if you feel you can do so safely during the coronavirus pandemic.) Exercise and meditation are also useful tools for managing stress. There are even exercise classes and guided meditations dedicated to wellness for cancer patients.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology offers a great resource for cancer patients that includes tips for reducing stress, stress management strategies, and relaxation techniques.
Of course, there are also a few things you shouldn’t do when trying to manage your stress. Don’t deny the issue or ignore it by distracting yourself with “busy work.” It’s also important not to blame yourself for what’s happening or withdraw from the people who care about you. An “avoidance” mindset can often lead to unhealthy behavior like overeating or turning to drugs or alcohol
A solid support system is a fundamental key to wellness for cancer patients because it can help provide companionship, empathy and normalcy.
A study published in the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology examined what cancer patients are looking for when it comes to support. The researchers determined their main needs included companionship, empathy, home care support, informational support, being treated the same as usual, and having help with medical appointments.
So, who can you turn to for help if you have cancer? Friends and family are perhaps the most important piece of any support system. They are the ones who know you best, love you the most, and are more than willing to help in any way they can. Spiritual and religious advisors can also be great resources for support.
Your social support system can offer help in a variety of ways. It can be as simple as a sympathetic listening ear or practical support like running errands, buying groceries or cooking meals.
For more formal social support, look for cancer support groups in your area or online. It can be very beneficial to talk with other cancer patients who are feeling similar emotions. You can also consider reaching out to a counselor or therapist with experience in cancer support.
Having a good social support system is very beneficial for self-care. It’s a proven way to reduce stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression. It can also help improve your mood, self-confidence and physical health.
As part of the Provision CARES Cancer Network, Provision CARES Proton Therapy has locations in Knoxville and Nashville, Tenn. If you or someone you know has cancer, we encourage you to call a Provision treatment center near you. One of our Cancer Care Experts can speak to you about your specific diagnosis and help determine if proton therapy is right for you.