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A cancer diagnosis can leave you feeling helpless, like life is out of your control and there’s nothing you can do about it.
However, while the medical aspects of cancer treatment are your doctors’ domain, there is a lot you can do to influence your well-being and cancer recovery.
If you want to reclaim control from cancer, these self-care cancer diagnosis practices are the place to start.
1. Overcome Sleep Problems
Despite the constant fatigue caused by treatment, sleep problems are common in cancer patients. Not only does cancer and chemotherapy cause physical pain and discomfort, but the emotional distress of cancer also keeps cancer patients up at night.
Unfortunately, in addition to leaving you tired and cranky, a lack of quality sleep can have a negative effect on your overall health, and at the worst possible time.
Poor sleep weakens the immune system, amplifies pain, and makes it harder to cope with your cancer diagnosis.
To increase your chances of recovery, improving your sleep must be a top priority.
- Adopt a soothing bedtime routine. Try drinking herbal tea, taking a warm bath, or gently stretching to relax.
- Improve your sleep environment. Make your bedroom as dark, quiet, and peaceful as possible. Try not to watch TV or use other electronics in bed. If you find that your spouse or partner’s movements or body heat is distracting, sleep alone a few nights each week.
- Don’t drink caffeine in the afternoons. If you need an energy boost, try a short walk or gentle stretching.
- Avoid hypersomnia, or sleeping longer than 10 hours in a single stretch. If you’re fatigued during the day, take a short nap. However, don’t nap so much that it interferes with nighttime sleep.
2. Have Proper Nutrition
Healthy eating habits are important all of the time, but especially when your body is healing from cancer.
Unfortunately, cancer and cancer treatment make proper nutrition difficult. When you have cancer, your sense of taste and smell change. You may lose your appetite completely or experience nausea. In some cases, your body can’t absorb nutrients even if you’re eating enough.
- Eat small meals and snacks and sip liquids throughout the day. Beef and chicken broth are great options to consume between meals.
- Eat food high in protein and calories. These foods help you make the most of a limited appetite.
- Drink smoothies, soups, and meal replacement shakes if eating solid food is difficult. Look for products that are low in sugar but not labeled as “low-fat.”
- Stay active to stimulate your appetite.
Seniors with Medicare or Medicare Advantage can receive professional nutrition therapy, however certain criteria must be met to receive nutrition therapy coverage. Review your insurance plan to understand which nutrition services are covered and how to qualify.
3. Improve Physical Activity
You might not be able to exercise like you used to, but it’s still important to stay active while you have cancer. Physical activity helps you cope with pain, nausea, stress, and other side effects of cancer treatment.
Too much rest, on the other hand, worsens physical health and makes it harder to maintain quality of life while ill.
- Work with a physical therapist to devise a safe and effective exercise plan.
- Reduce the intensity and length of workouts, but aim to exercise 150 minutes weekly. Even as little as ten minutes of activity at a time can have positive benefits.
- Participate in resistance training exercises two to three days per week.
- Exercise under supervision if you experience balance problems, dizziness, or muscle and bone weakness.
4. Spiritual Healing and Emotional Care
Physical self-care softens the impact of stress and depression when you have cancer, but you also need time to focus solely on your emotional and spiritual wellness.
If you try to shove aside difficult feelings, it’s only a matter of time until they catch up with you. Instead, acknowledge and address your feelings surrounding your cancer diagnosis.
- Talk about your feelings with family, friends, and professionals. Expressing feelings is the first step to managing them.
- Take time to do things you enjoy. Watch a favorite movie, participate in a hobby, attend a religious service, or engage in another cherished activity.
- Seek spiritual support. Regardless of religious affiliation, spiritual guidance is a valuable source of support when your health is at risk.
- If you think you’re depressed, get help. It’s harder to take care of yourself when depressed, so don’t avoid addressing this serious health concern.
Self-care is never more important than when you’re facing a life-changing diagnosis. Whether your goal is to increase your odds of recovery, mitigate the emotional blow of a cancer diagnosis, or just reap more enjoyment from daily life, self-care is the answer.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you need assistance or additional guidance coming up with a self-care plan that works for you.
Scott Sanders is the author of the book Put Yourself First: A Guide to Self-care and Spiritual Wellness During and After Cancer Treatment. He created CancerWell as a way to support those who have been affected by cancer.