Caring for Your Mind and Body through Cancer
by Donna Wilson, RN, MSN, RRT, and Diana Sadtler, BS, CPT-NASM, CES
People making the journey through cancer treatment find that life changes in many ways. The road to recovery is different for everyone, but taking care of your mind and body is critical.
People undergoing cancer treatment have a higher risk of dehydration due to side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Water removes toxins, regulates body temperature, and protects your organs and tissue, making fluids critical. Mild dehydration can cause headaches, weakness, dry mouth, constipation, and dry skin. More severe dehydration will cause rapid heartbeat, fever, and low blood pressure. Talk with your doctor about the best ways for you to stay hydrated, and remember these tips:
- When you feel tired, keep drinks close by so you don’t have to get up to get a drink.
- Keep a water bottle with you when you’re away from home, and take small sips of water all day.
- Suck on ice chips or ice pops.
- If you have mouth sores, apply moisturizer or medicated ointment to ease the pain of drinking and eating.
- Most importantly, seek medical assistance if you become overly dehydrated.
The unknowns of cancer can cause fear and worry. Take control by learning all that you can about the disease, its treatment, and recovery. Knowledge will give you a sense of power over your cancer and help you better cope with what lies ahead.
If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, you have a higher risk of dehydration. Keep a water bottle with you, and take small sips of water all day.
Anxiety and sadness are normal reactions to a cancer diagnosis. To help maintain your emotional health, seek support from a family member, friend, support group, health professional, or spiritual advisor. Sharing your situation with others may help you get through difficult treatments, improve your inner strength, and give you a positive outlook.
Practice Healthy Eating Habits
Side effects associated with cancer therapy often affect eating habits, causing poor nutrition at a time when your body needs to be in good shape to fight and to heal. Loss of appetite, food sensitivity, altered taste and smell, mouth sores, nausea, and other side effects may contribute to a change in eating habits.
Eating healthy food promotes adequate body weight and supports the cells and tissues needed to fight infection, as well as the disease. In order to get the nutrition you need while you’re experiencing treatment-related side effects, consume several smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large meals, eat the most when you are hungriest (no matter the time of day), drink protein-rich smoothies if your appetite is low, and sample new foods for variety. As always, eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates.
Recent studies show that daily activity can improve physical performance, strengthen bones, increase quality of life, and decrease cancer-related fatigue. Physical activity also helps manage stress and can lower your risk for depression. The status of your health will determine the proper exercise program for you, and as your health changes, so will your program. There is no onesize- fits-all regimen, because everyone experiences treatment and recovery differently. Get the green light from your physician before starting any exercise program. Upon consent, consider teaming up with a health professional to guide you through the process safely and successfully.
Life after cancer is different from life before cancer. Some people experience physical changes, others experience emotional changes, and some deal with both. Cancer can dominate your life for a long time, and getting back into your daily routine can be challenging. First, acknowledge that your life is not the same as before. You may struggle with a shift in priorities, worry about your job, or view the future differently now. This is normal. Recognizing and accepting these changes will help you move ahead.
Second, full participation in life is mandatory. Dive back into your daily routines, work, and community as soon as possible. This may take some time as your recovery progresses, but stay positive.
Finally, help others. Your story and experience can help others who are on the same journey. Volunteering at a cancer hospital or participating in a cancer support group will not only help others, but it may also help you to move forward.
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Donna Wilson is the fitness coordinator at the Integrative Medicine Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, NY. Diana Sadtler is an exercise physiologist at the Integrative Medicine Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and a columnist for SUSIE Magazine.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2013.