I am honored to present this article by Scott -- his website is a wonderful resource for both patients and their family members by providing self-care recommendations, healthy recipes, and other helpful information.
Care for Your Physical Needs
- Exercise - When you aren’t feeling yourself, you may not feel like getting up and moving, but moderate exercise can actually make you feel better. MD Anderson Cancer Center recommends listening to your body and paying attention to side effects so that exercise makes you feel better, not worse. For example, if you’re experiencing extreme fatigue, pushing yourself to exercise could cause injury. But as long as you’re feeling up for it, moderate exercise can actually reduce fatigue. Exercise also builds strength, helps reduce anxiety and depression, and can even reduce pain.
- Balanced nutrition - Along with exercise, balanced nutrition is essential to making your body as strong as possible to fight cancer. Eating plenty of fruits (prioritize berries which are high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory) and vegetables (especially leafy greens like kale and spinach) and anti-inflammatory fats like omega-3 fatty acids helps ensure you get all the vitamins and nutrients your body needs. Choose healthy fats such as avocado, oily fish like wild salmon and sardines, extra virgin olive oil, walnuts, and flaxseeds. Supplement with fish oil if you have a hard time regularly adding omega-3-rich foods into your diet. If you’re experiencing nausea or other side effects that decrease your appetite, it may help to talk to a dietician about ways to make food more appealing. If you’re having difficulty figuring out how to put together a great diet, look around online for guides. Also, if you’re a senior enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, check your policy to see if the cost of a nutritionist is covered.
- Pain management - Pain — both physical and emotional — is an unfortunate effect of cancer treatment, and figuring out the best way to manage it can be tricky. If your doctor prescribes opioid pain medication, it’s important to have an open dialogue with them about the risks, your medical history, and how to use it safely. These medications are very effective, but they also carry a high risk of addiction. If you and your doctor decide that they are the best choice for your pain management, make sure you only take them as directed by your doctor and watch out for warning signs of dependency. Whether in conjunction with prescriptions or in place of them, you may want to consider non-medical ways of treating pain, like relaxation therapies, counseling, epsom salt baths, CBD oil, and massage.
Care for Your Emotional Needs
- Seek support - Besides your physical needs, caring for yourself when you have cancer has to include seeking the emotional support you need. Surround yourself with close friends and family members who will listen, or who just make you feel good to be around. Let them help when they offer, and don’t feel shy about telling them specifically what they can do to help. Emotional support can also come from a professional counselor who can help you process your feelings about what you’re going through, especially if you are suffering from depression, mental stress, or exhaustion. Keep a journal to jot down your thoughts and release tension at the end of each day.
- Practice Mindfulness - Starting a gentle yoga class (such as yin or restorative yoga) can be a wonderful way to alleviate pain and tune in to the present moment. Additionally, a daily dose of mindfulness-- whether a short, seated meditation, a guided recording, or walk in nature-- can help realign one's purpose and meaning amongst the stress of a diagnosis and treatment. Apps such as Headspace and Waking Up can be helpful if you are a beginner. Also, look for support groups in your area that may offer mindfulness-based stress reduction classes or cognitive behavioral therapy that incorporates meditation into the class sessions. Previous research has demonstrated that after only 6 weeks of a daily mindfulness practice of 15-45 minutes, breast cancer patients had a significant improvement in anxiety, fatigue, and fear of recurrence in addition to depression and quality of life. Other studies have shown its benefits for improving meaningfulness, emotional control, stress, as well as long-term sustained benefits on cognitive symptoms, tension, sympathetic arousal, social support, spirituality, and posttraumatic growth.
- Connect to your spiritual self - Some people connect spiritually through religion and prayer, while for others, spirituality means something else entirely. The important thing is to nurture that part of you, in whatever way is most meaningful to you. According to HuffPost, cancer patients who reported a higher degree of spirituality were less affected by cancer symptoms and had lower rates of anxiety and depression. Of course, physical and emotional well-being are connected, and doing things that are good for your body, like exercise and massage, also benefits your spiritual and emotional state.
This article just begins to chip away at the iceberg -- there are a plethora of resources and recommendations for improving self-care in cancer patients, from proper supplementation and botanicals that may act as an adjunct to allopathic treatment, to nutritional recommendations and exercise modifications. Making self-care a priority when you’re fighting cancer often feels like a catch-22 — if you feel bad physically or emotionally, it can be hard to motivate yourself to exercise and nourish yourself, but when you do, you actually feel better. This is where surrounding yourself with a great support system can make a difference, because your friends and family can help give you the nudge you need to do what’s best for you. The reality is that the better care you take of your body and soul, the stronger you will be to fight cancer.