Cancer can have many side effects that can leave you feeling weak, tired or ill. If you experience such side effects, your care team can help manage these side effects. Good nutrition, regular exercise and other wellness practices can go a long way to helping you stay healthy and energized during treatment.
American Cancer Society (ACS) nutrition and exercise guidelines are a great place to start, advises Nancy Thoma, RN, BSN, OCN, Premier Health oncology nurse navigator. She also stresses smart infection control to prevent illness.
Know that the type of cancer you have and your treatment will have a bearing on which diet and exercise recommendations are right for you, she cautions. “It is very individualized. Check with your doctor before making any exercise or diet changes.”
ACS guidelines promote eating a variety of foods to supply your body with the nutrients it needs when battling cancer. Protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins and minerals will help fuel it for the fight. Eating the right kinds of foods during and after treatment can help you feel better and stay stronger.
But what if treatment side effects get in the way of good nutrition? Some treatments cause nausea and leave you with little or no appetite.
That’s when eating several, small meals spread out through the day can help you get the nutrients you need, Thoma says. Another option to consider is seeking nutritional counseling.
Research shows that exercise, such as daily walking, can improve your physical function and reduce the extreme tiredness which often accompanies cancer treatment.
“Your main goal should be to stay as active as possible and slowly increase your level of activity over time,” Thoma says. “And rest when you need to. Don’t overdo it.”
One option is to consider an exercise therapy program.
During cancer treatment, your immunity may be lower than normal. When your body can’t readily fight off infection, you’re at a higher risk of becoming ill.
Your body’s infection-fighting ability will vary both with the type of treatment you receive and at certain points in your treatment. “There are times in treatment where you need to be extra cautious about going out in public,” Thoma advises.
Your doctor will watch your white blood cell count to determine when your immunity drops to a level that raises your risk of illness.
“It’s best to follow your doctor’s advice on when to avoid large crowds and people who have illnesses and colds,” Thoma says.
That old standby — frequent handwashing — is a sound disease prevention tactic for anyone, she adds, and especially when you’re undergoing chemotherapy.
Take Care of Treatment Side Effects
Recording and reporting your treatment side effects to your doctor is another good way to stay as healthy as you can, says Jeanne Ponziani, MSA, RN, NE-BC, Director of Clinical Operations at Miami Valley Hospital South. “Be very aware of yourself and what’s normal for you. Call your doctor so you don’t let side effects get too extreme before they’re taken care of.” For instance, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration if you don’t deal with them quickly.
She also emphasizes paying as much attention to your mental health as your physical health. Ponziani recommends having a good support system of family and friends to rely on and talk with. She also suggests connecting with a support group. Many are available, she says.
Supportive Services at Premier Health
Patients and survivors can find more help in staying healthy with specialized supportive services. Each Premier Health hospital offers a variety of services ranging from exercise therapy, nutrition counseling, massage and therapeutic art, and more. These services are designed to provide comfort, support and overall well-being for people with cancer.
“Supportive services can help patients get back to a new normal,” Ponziani explains. Group exercise classes, including yoga, can help patients regain mobility, strength, range of motion, balance and endurance, while also building camaraderie and a sense of community.
Cancer treatments can be hard on the body, but support is available to lessen the side effects and keep you as active as possible during treatment. Talk to your doctor about what supportive services may provide some relief for you.