Cancer can feel like a tornado at times. The cancer affects you and the treatment affects you. Your emotions are affected and your family is affected. And there you are, in the middle of it all! That’s why it’s crucial to do everything you can to look after yourself and boost your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being during this time. Here are four ways you can do just that.
The Role of Spirituality and Religion
The links between religion, spirituality and well-being in cancer patients are complex and personal. Cancer can awaken spirituality in some people, but cause others to question their beliefs. The specific nature of your beliefs seems to play a role. As this article in the Huffington Post points out, there seems to be a link between the belief in a benign God and positive well-being in people with cancer. However, the reverse is also true — spiritual distress is linked to lower well-being in cancer patients.
If you’re a religious person, you have existing support in the form of your faith leaders. If you define yourself as spiritual but do not belong to an organized group, practices like mindfulness meditation and yoga may be of some benefit in clarifying your thoughts. Your health care provider can also support your spiritual and religious needs during your treatment.
Create a Comfy Home
You don’t have to go on a cleaning spree — and you likely won’t have the physical or mental energy to do so anyway — but creating a comforting home atmosphere will be a boon to you during this heavy time. Ask a loved one to help you, or consider hiring a professional to come give your home a good purging and cleaning. Start by getting rid of things you no longer want or need; too much “stuff” not only clutters your home, but can actually drain you emotionally.
Once you’ve gotten rid of excess items, your cleaning helper can move on to dusting, vacuuming, and mopping, which will improve the health of your home and you. Don’t forget your air quality, either. Allergens like mold and smoke have a nasty habit of lingering in the air, which can be especially nauseating to cancer patients. Replacing your home’s air filter with one rated MERV 13 or higher will rid your air of these and 98 percent of other irritants in the air.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
Cancer treatment can affect your appetite, taste preferences and cause nausea — right at the time when good nutrition is most important. Everyone is affected differently, so adapt your schedule accordingly. If you only have an appetite in the mornings, eat your largest meal of the day at this time. You need to keep up your strength, so if you only feel like eating certain types of foods, then sticking to those is preferable over not eating. Meal-replacement powders or shakes can be a good way to get extra calories and protein when your appetite is low, and remember to stay hydrated. If you need more advice on nutrition, read the Eating Hints guide by the National Cancer Institute.
Start a Cancer Journal
A lot of our mental well-being stems from our thoughts. When we’re going through a difficult time, those thoughts can be fast, vague, and confusing. It can seem that no matter how much we think, we don’t get any clarity. That’s where a cancer journal comes in. Although journaling might seem like a simple exercise, it helps you build a narrative out of your thoughts and feelings, making them concrete and easier to deal with. You can write about your worries, your fears, things you’re thankful for, and things you hope for. It’s your journal, so do what you want with it.
Use Opioids Safely
If you have been prescribed opioids to help with your pain, use them exactly as prescribed by your doctor, and make sure your doctor is aware of all other medications, supplements, and over-the-counter medications you’re taking. Do not take a higher or lower dose than prescribed, as higher doses can cause more side effects and lower doses can cause withdrawal symptoms.
When it’s time to stop taking the medication, you’ll usually taper off your usage gradually over a few days or weeks. Opioids can cause drowsiness, so don’t drive or drink alcohol while you are taking them. If you notice any bothersome side effects, contact your doctor right away.
Cancer can undermine your emotional and physical health. Even if you’re not seeing the impact yet, it’s a good idea to get positive habits in place. This will make future stresses easier to deal with. However, if things start to get too difficult, it’s important to talk to your doctor as soon as you can.