By Scott Sanders
For most people, getting a cancer diagnosis feels like your world has been turned upside down. Even if you’re used to a healthy lifestyle, it isn’t always easy to maintain your regular routine. Your energy level may be suffering, you may not have much of an appetite, and the emotional roller coaster sometimes drains you. These are all normal experiences for cancer patients, but despite these challenges, you need a holistic plan for self-care now more than ever.
Managing Physical Side Effects
It may sound funny to think of something so basic as eating as being a form of self-care, but having a suppressed appetite is a common physical side effect of cancer and many treatments. As a result, it can be a struggle to get the calories and nutrients you need. The Mayo Clinic recommends some strategies that may help, including eating small portions frequently (rather than spacing out larger meals) and adding variety to your diet to make food more appetizing.
These strategies are a good start, but it’s important to realize that everyone’s situation is unique and what works for one person may not be the right solution for you. Because of this, many cancer patients benefit from getting the help of a nutritionist. A professional can look at your medical needs and help develop a nutrition therapy plan that works for you. Many health insurance plans provide coverage for nutritionists, including some Medicare Advantage plans for seniors, so it’s worth looking at what your plan covers to make sure you’re utilizing all the resources available to you.
Caring for Your Mental Health
Even when you have an amazing care team, so much of cancer treatment is focused on restoring your physical health. But cancer also takes a toll on the mind. Some cancer medications can even impact your mental health, and of course, feelings of stress and worry are normal for cancer patients to experience. Social Work Today explains how important it is to get help from mental health professionals, in addition to communicating emotional concerns with your medical team.
With a holistic approach to caring for your physical and mental health, you may discover solutions that help you feel more like yourself again. If you’re a breast cancer survivor, one solution may be exploring breast reconstruction surgery. Studies have shown that breast reconstruction reduces the psychological impact of mastectomy for many people. Going through cancer treatment and surgery, and especially losing a part of yourself, is highly emotional. Having reconstruction is a very personal decision, but many people feel like it’s a solution that helps them feel whole again.
Finding Small Ways to Care for Yourself
Holistic self-care for cancer patients is more than just managing the big stuff. It’s also about finding small ways to care for yourself every day. This can be “traditional” self-care like taking time to pamper yourself with a relaxing bath, but it can also be simple comforts that make you feel spiritually nourished. For some people, spiritual renewal comes from time spent in prayer or meditation, while others may get this comfort from music or being in nature. Whatever it is that fulfills that side of yourself, make time to practice it daily.
Another critical part of self-care involves leaning on the support of others. When friends and family members offer to help, take them up on the offer! Better yet, ask for what you need. They want to help but may not know how. It’s important to stay socially engaged too. Something as simple as meeting a friend for coffee can brighten your day and help you feel connected.
Don’t discount these small actions because they can make a big difference in how you feel and your overall outlook on life. Self-care can have many different meanings, but for someone with cancer, it’s all about giving yourself the holistic care you need. This means nourishing yourself daily by caring for all of your needs – physical, emotional, and spiritual.