Cancer and many of the treatments used to beat it take a serious toll on your body, your energy level, your appetite and your attitude. That’s why taking good care of yourself during treatment is so important. It can help you feel better physically and emotionally, and it may even improve your treatment outcome.
Studies of breast cancer patients, for instance, have found those who eat a well-balanced diet have a higher rate of survival compared to those who don’t consume a healthy diet.
Consider these tips to enhance your health while you are undergoing cancer treatment. Just be sure to discuss trying anything new or stopping anything you’re already doing with your oncologist.
This is a trying time, but your will to be well—body, mind, and spirit—can go a long way to supporting the healing process. We wish you the best on your road to recovery.
Eat a Diet Rich in Fruits and Vegetables
The vitamins, phytonutrients, and antioxidants in colorful fruits and vegetables are extra important when you’re battling cancer, as they have been linked to helping halt cancer cell growth. Talk to your doctor about whether she suggests that you eat more than the standard recommendation of two cups of fruit and two and half cups of vegetables each day.
You may find that chemotherapy or radiation therapy leave you with little appetite, in which case you can consider juicing to easily ingest several servings without feeling too full. An oncology nutritionist can determine if supplements are necessary to meet your goals.
Practice Food Safety
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can lower your white blood cell count, which makes your body less effective at fighting off infections. Make sure your food is well-cooked and carefully cleaned to avoid bacterial exposure. (If you’re not preparing your meals, ask whoever does to do this for you.)
Choosing organic produce and organic or all-natural dairy and proteins (meat, poultry, etc.) may minimize exposure to pesticides and added chemical compounds that may put an extra detoxification load on the liver. Avoiding artificial ingredients—such as artificial colors, preservatives, and sweeteners—is an important way to decrease the detoxification load on your body.
More: Detox Your Diet
Brew Some Tea
Drink several cups of antioxidant-rich and polyphenol-packed tea—black, red (rooibos), white or green—several times a day. Not only is tea thought to help inhibit tumor cells from spreading, it may also help protect the liver from the damaging effects of chemotherapy.
If you have mouth sores from radiation therapy and can’t tolerate hot beverages, iced tea has the same positive effects.
Consider Taking Milk Thistle
Milk thistle seeds contain silymarin – a group of flavonoids that may also protect liver cells from harmful toxins. It has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and may even help an injured liver produce new cells to heal itself.
Though more research is needed to confirm these results in humans, early-stage lab studies also hint that milk thistle may actually help prevent cancer cells from dividing and reduce blood supply to tumors, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. Because milk thistle can interact with someone medications, it’s important to speak to your oncologist before taking it or any other supplement.
Practice Mind-Body Techniques
Getting familiar with integrative modalities—like meditation, yoga, relaxation techniques and healing touch—can be a great comfort during treatment. Not only can these modalities help to reduce your stress level, they can also provide a feel-good distraction from your treatment.
Explore a few techniques to find one that feels right to you and that you’ll enjoy practicing on a daily basis. Many of these can even be done from the comfort of your bed.
Being physically active will help you keep your energy up as well as boost your mood during your cancer treatments. Most moderate activities—such as gentle yoga, tai chi and walking—will be safe and beneficial but always check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Don’t push yourself beyond your comfort point—listen to your body, and skip activity days when you feel you need to.
Keep Your Weight in Check
Reaching and maintaining your optimal body weight is an important way to support your health and treatments. Talk to your doctor if you need help gaining or losing weight. And don’t be shy about asking your friends and family for support.
A study of women undergoing breast cancer treatments found that weekly phone calls improved their diets and increased how much physical activity they got, both of which benefitted their quality of life and supported their treatments.
Connect with Something Spiritual
A rich spiritual life can help as you go through the healing process. Studies suggest that people with strong religious and spiritual beliefs are less anxious and depressed, and cope better with chronic illnesses.
Spirituality can refer to traditional religious practices, such as attending a church or synagogue or practicing Buddhist meditation techniques, but it doesn’t have to. You can feed your spiritual side by doing anything that strengthens your connection to yourself, others and the world around you, such as bonding with friends or spending more time communing with nature.