Self-Care and Cancer: How to Maintain Your Overall Wellness in the Face of Illness

While traditional medical care, treatments, and medication are all vital components of care for cancer patients, the thing that ties them all together is your own personal self-care. By keeping yourself well — mentally, physically, and spiritually — you boost the effectiveness of your traditional cancer care. Although cancer often makes us feel out of control, practicing self-care is one way to take that control back. Here’s how.

Prioritize the Big Three: Nutrition, Exercise, and Sleep

The three most important things you can do to put your body and mind in the right place to heal are eat right, get some exercise, and sleep well. What is considered a good diet for cancer patients can vary, but it’s smart to start with foods that are high in protein and healthy fats, as well as fruits and veggies of all colors. Eating better with cancer also involves knowing how to get enough nutrition through bouts of nausea and other illness (for example, try oatmeal, crackers, rice, and plain pasta, for example).

The American Cancer Society notes the following benefits of moderate exercise for cancer patients: improves balance, keeps muscles from wasting due to inactivity, lowers the risk of heart disease, improves blood flow to your legs and lower the risk of blood clots, lowers the risk of being anxious and depressed, lessens nausea, and many more. Exercise provides a body and mind boost that you need every single day.

Additionally, cancer patients often struggle with sleep. Eating right and exercising will, in turn, help you get better-quality sleep. You should prioritize sleep whenever you feel tired, as your body needs it to heal. Don’t feel guilty about sleeping whenever, wherever you need to.

Promote Better Air Quality in Your Home

There’s a reason hospitals keep the air quality in their rooms clean: Polluted air can interfere with the healing efforts of cancer patients and make them feel worse. That’s why you should  invest in an air purifier for your home. It will take care of the pollen, dust, mold, dander, and most airborne pollutants that invade the home. A good air filter to consider is a MERV 13, which traps 98 percent of the particles in the air. Make sure you replace the filter every 90 days to maintain healthy air quality.

Lean on Others for Help

Self-care often means making yourself a priority, and one way to do that is to let people help you. You are worth it, and you are not a burden. Being social not only boosts your mood, but research also suggests that having friends and family support can help your cancer battle.

That companionship doesn’t have to be human either. The benefits of support/therapy dogs for cancer patients are numerous. Beyond the obvious emotional support that a dog can provide, your four-legged companion may be able to help you with relaxation, distraction, and socialization. Service dogs can even help you with things around the house.

Open Yourself Up for Better Spiritual Wellness

Spiritual doesn’t have to mean religious (though it can). Having spiritual wellness simply means being connected and integrated with the self, others, nature, art, and possibly a higher power. It’s about meaning, purpose, and tranquility. Cancer patients, who often struggle with finding this meaning and purpose, need to focus on improving spiritual wellness more than anybody. Some tried and true ways to do this include prayer, meditation, and positive visualization.

Learn How to Say No

It’s not selfish to practice self-care, especially if you’re fighting cancer. Practicing self-care isn’t necessarily prioritizing yourself over those you love, it’s prioritizing yourself in a way you haven’t before. It’s giving yourself that ability to do things solely for your own benefit, and that’s okay. Part of this means saying no to others when you need to take time for yourself.

Psych Central notes that “being unable to say no can make you exhausted, stressed and irritable. It could be undermining any efforts you make to improve your quality of life.” For the good of your overall wellness, don’t be afraid to be self-focused (not selfish).

The bottom line is that your mind and body need to be in tip-top shape in order to deal with your cancer, your treatments, and the side effects. You are fully in control of yourself, and you must focus on improving your overall wellness on a daily basis. This is how you fight.


This article was contributed by Scott Sanders, creator of CancerWell.org.

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