When you’re undergoing cancer treatment, you are constantly being exposed to medical interventions. This focus on treatments, doctors appointments, and medication can make you forget about the ways in which you can support your own recovery. Through good self-care, you can help keep your mind and body as healthy as possible, giving you the emotional, physical, and mental strength to continue living your life and eventually get better.
According to the Conversation (1), exercise can reduce side effects from treatments and make these more tolerable, as well as minimize the mental, emotional, and physical decline associated with cancer.
Of course, cancer treatment is exhausting, so you will not always be able to do high-impact exercise. However, a combination of aerobics, strength training, balance, and stretching (which has a number of health benefits, both mentally and physically) is still recommended — and achievable — as long as you know your limits and listen to your body. If you get tired very quickly, do shorter bursts of exercise; for instance, instead of going for a 30-minute brisk walk, go for a 10-minute one three times a day. For seniors enduring cancer treatments, note that Silver Sneakers can be a great resource for wellness and fitness programs (yoga, swimming, walking), many of which offer classes that provide modifications that fit your current needs. This is an extra perk that comes with Medicare Advantage plans, so consider reviewing your current policy if you’re a member to find out if your eligible for this healthful benefit.
Generally speaking, most people with cancer would benefit from a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruit and vegetables, low in sugar, and low in red and processed meats. This is similar to the usual diet advice given to the general population; after all, it’s all about using food to keep your body as healthy as it can so it can fight the disease.
However, it is important to recognize that many treatments, such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and surgery, can have drastic effects on appetite and digestive health. For that reason, there is no one-size-fits-all dietary solution for cancer patients. For some, it could be beneficial to look into nutrition therapy, as a professional will be able to give you specific advice tailored to your treatment. Some seniors may be able to get nutrition therapy on Medicare, especially if they have a Medicare Advantage plan, so it is a good idea to check your coverage.
Pain and discomfort — either from the cancer itself or the treatment — is enough to keep anyone awake, as is the anxiety associated with going through such a terrible illness.
There are ways to help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been proven effective for cancer patients with insomnia, as have other interventions, such as light therapy. However, before you start looking into these, it might be worth focusing on improving your sleep hygiene and your nighttime routine.
Good sleep hygiene includes having a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, not using electronic devices in the lead-up to bed, keeping your room cool and comfortable, and avoiding heavy meals before bed. You’ll be surprised at how much of a difference these small habits can make. If you still struggle to sleep afterward, ask your doctor what can be done about it.
We all know that cancer takes a toll on the body, but less is said of its impact on the mind. Going through cancer treatment is scary, stressful, and a host of other strong emotions. A huge part of self-care during treatment is finding healthy ways to cope with and process these emotions.
Eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep will all positively affect your mental health. However, you may need something more to cope with stress and anxiety. According to Headspace, mindfulness meditation can be a powerful tool for this.
It is also important to understand that cancer can affect mental health after treatment has succeeded. Up to 25 percent of cancer survivors experience depression, and up to 45 percent report anxiety. This isn’t meant to scare you, but to remind you that any self-care habits you develop to support your mental health should be maintained as you start your post-cancer life.
Above all, remember to be kind to yourself. If you can’t make a workout or if you can’t stomach a meal, you’re not failing in your self-care. As long as you keep working to maintain these healthy habits and you are doing your best, you will experience the sense of support and stability that comes with good self-care.
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About Guest Blogger Chloe Pearson
Chloe Pearson is a freelance writer and research specialist who volunteers with Consumer Health Labs. She loves exploring and interpreting new health-related data and aims to help people make sense of information.
1, Cormie, Prue, and Principal Research Fellow. “Every Cancer Patient Should Be Prescribed Exercise Medicine.” The Conversation, 11 Oct. 2018, theconversation.com/every-cancer-patient-should-be-prescribed-exercise-medicine-95440.