Taking care of yourself as you fight cancer is much more than just doctor’s visits and treatments.

Cancer changes your whole body. So you need to take care of your whole person during and after treatment.

That means getting proper rest and nutrition. It means exercising if you’re able. It means addressing side effects so that you can continue your treatment plan. It means getting a handle on stress and learning how to find joy during difficult times. And it means finding ways to cope with not knowing what’s ahead.

Mind/Body Connection

Your body responds to the way you feel and think. So if you are stressed out and upset, your body will react. It’s important to be honest with your doctor and share your feelings if you are particularly anxious. 

There are several ways you can help take care of your emotional health:

  • Express your feelings. Keeping your stress or sadness inside can make you feel worse. You can let your family and friends know what you are feeling. They may not know how to help, so consider asking your doctor, a counselor or a religious advisor for support.
  • Aim for balance. You don’t have to pretend to be happy when you feel upset. But focusing on the positive things in your life can help you feel better. You may want to use a journal to track things that make you feel at peace or happy. You may also need to find ways to let go of some things in your life that make you feel more stressed.
  • Try to be resilient. Being resilient can be learned and improved by having social support, keeping a positive view of yourself, accepting change and trying to keep things in perspective. A counselor or therapist can help.
  • Calm your mind and body. Find ways to relax. Try meditation or listening to music. Meditation is a form of guided thought. It can take many forms. For example, you may do it by exercising, stretching, or sitting and breathing deeply. You might consider yoga or tai chi.

Your doctor may suggest other ways to address your emotional and physical health. If you have signs of depression, you may benefit from counseling, medicine or both.

Eating Well

Eating well during and after cancer treatment can help you feel stronger and better able to tolerate treatment. It also aids in recovery.

You may need extra protein and calories, or you may need to try foods that are easy to chew and swallow. If you are having trouble maintaining your weight, have a light meal or snack every few hours. Choose foods that are high in calories and protein. A dietitian can help you with any diet changes you may need to make.

Cancer treatments are designed to kill cancer cells, but they can cause side effects like nausea that may lead to eating problems. Ask your doctor for help, and try these tips:

  • Avoid strong food odors.
  • Rinse your mouth to remove bad tastes.
  • Try new foods.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes.
  • Distract yourself with TV or music.

Calm Your Mind Before Sleep

Meditation helps some people relax so that they can sleep better. Other people swear by breathing exercises.

Here are some other tips for better sleep during and after treatment:

  • Try making lists to help you let go of your worries.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks for six to eight hours before bed.
  • Make sure the room temperature isn’t too hot or too cold.
  • Skip the alcohol.
  • Try drinking decaffeinated tea or another warm drink before going to bed. But don’t drink too many liquids close to bedtime.
  • Keep a routine by going to bed at the same time every day.

Keep Good Habits

Eating a balanced and healthy diet and getting enough rest is a start. There are other things you can do to keep up your physical and mental health. Getting whatever exercise you are able to handle is another important good habit.

Some find benefit in regularly attending support groups. Support groups can help cancer survivors share experiences and build friendships. Participating in groups can help break through isolation and offer reassurance and suggestions to help you cope.

Keeping to a routine can help, too. And taking part in the activities you enjoy may help you feel better.

These are also good habits to develop:

  • Try to cope with challenges, rather than avoiding action.
  • Keep problems in perspective. Look ahead to how the future may improve.
  • Build a support network. Learn to accept help. Your family and friends can help you build resilience.
  • When you are feeling better, consider joining a civic or religious group to give back to others.