Many people who complete cancer treatment make strides to improve their overall wellness and lessen their chances of experiencing a cancer recurrence. Here are some steps cancer survivors take to lead healthier lives.
Step 1: Exercise more
“When treatment is complete, take the opportunity to live a healthier lifestyle by incorporating regular physical activity into your day,” advises Danielle Kennedy, a clinical oncology dietitian at our hospital in Philadelphia. “Muscle loss is often a part of the cancer treatment process, so you have to work to rebuild your muscle stores. A combination of both cardiovascular and strength training will help you feel better after treatment.”
Exercise can improve sleep and lessen depression, and in turn, resolve fatigue. By slowly adding exercise to your daily routine, you’ll notice the difference it makes over time.
Be sure to talk with your doctor about what type of exercise might be right for you.
Step 2: Eat better
Diet is another key component of healthy survivorship. “After treatment, it is easy to start gaining weight,” says Kennedy. “A diet high in plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans will keep you feeling full, in turn helping you to refrain from overeating. Animal foods such as lean meats, fish and low-fat dairy products are also ok, but I always emphasize plant foods because they are packed with cancer-fighting nutrients.”
Kennedy advises that you can retrain your taste buds to love healthy foods. She adds, “Cancer treatment is an overwhelming and stressful experience that can alter your relationship with food. Take the time to rebuild your love for food and the many ways food supports you, as a survivor and a whole new person.”
Step 3: Enjoy life!
It’s important to get back to living and enjoying life as much as possible after treatment, says Jennifer Stuart, lead occupational therapist at our hospital outside of Phoenix. She recommends resuming hobbies like gardening and arts and crafts, socializing with friends and giving back to the community. Resuming the activities you used to enjoy will help you regain a sense of independence and normalcy.
Step 4: Accept your "new normal"
Heidi Larder, a survivorship support nurse at our north suburban Chicago hospital, says cancer patients often experience fatigue, sexual dysfunction, cognitive change and other symptoms after they’ve completed treatment. These treatment-related side effects vary, depending on the type and length of treatment, as well as what patients value. It’s important to remember that post-treatment side effects are normal and will change with time.
Larder helps guide cancer survivors to accept their "new normal." She advises patients to seek medical advice from their care providers to relieve symptoms and help them cope with changes to their quality of life.
Setting and sticking to healthy lifestyle goals, as well as having open conversations with your care providers, can help you have a positive outlook and keep you focused on improving your health.