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Why having a healthy lifestyle is important during cancer treatment

When you hear the words “You have cancer”, your first feelings are shock and a loss of control. Things happen fast and your head might be spinning. As your treatment plan is developed and you are actively pursuing a cure, it might help to focus on things that we can control in fighting the battle ahead.

The importance of a healthy lifestyle including a nutritious diet that is well balanced with all the food groups helps our bodies heal. A diet with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, lean protein and healthy fats nourishes us with vitamins, minerals, protein and fuel. The less processed foods are, the more nutrition that is available to our bodies for recovery from treatments. Staying well hydrated with mostly water is also necessary to help flush destroyed cancer cells, medications and waste products from our body. Dehydration can lead to extreme weakness and nausea.

To combat fatigue the American Cancer Society recommends that people receiving cancer treatment be as active as possible. This is also something we can do for ourselves. Aim to include both aerobic activities to raise your heart rate and strengthening exercises to maintain muscle mass and strengthen our bones. Always check with your doctor about an exercise program that is safe for you and start slowly to avoid injury, frustration or burnout. A more active lifestyle is not a sprint, it is a way to live healthy moving forward. You don’t have to buy fancy equipment, join a club or spend money on clothes. There are a lot of ways to increase your activity such as walking, taking the stairs instead of elevator, gardening, housework, etc. Also check out You Tube classes, events at the YMCA, NORD or your local library. Ask your insurance company if they provide a gym membership. Be creative and try something new.

Finally, we can take care of ourselves by practicing good sleep habits and reducing stress. Turn off electronics an hour before bed. Establish a nightly ritual such as a warm bath, hot caffeine free tea, reading or listening to inspirational stories, music or meditations. Make your bedroom a cozy and comfortable sanctuary for rest and healing. Work with your family to find stress reduction techniques that help you cope. Ask for help, seek counseling (often free through your doctors clinic). Pursue yoga, mindfulness practice, prayer, support groups, etc. Take advantage of the supportive care that surrounds you as you live this journey.

If you would like a consultation with a nutritionist, psychosocial counselor, cancer rehab exercise specialist or cancer survivorship nurse, please ask your doctor or nurse in the clinic. You are not alone in this and there is much that you do control during your treatment and after as you move forward.

>> Click here to learn more about the Cancer Survivorship Program at Touro.

Paula HarrelsonPaula Harrelson, RN has over 30 years of nursing experience. After experiencing a diagnosis of breast cancer herself in 2003, Paula was inspired to dedicate the remainder of her nursing career to working with others diagnosed with cancer. As Touro’s Survivorship Coordinator, Paula is passionate about helping people address their needs and regain and sense of wellness to move forward with living.