Cancer treatment helps to cure early-stage tumors and to relieve the symptoms of advanced-stage tumors. But it also comes with side effects such as fatigue, pain and nausea which can affect you in different ways. While your cancer treatment team will develop a plan to minimize and manage these side effects, you have the responsibility of following instructions and taking the necessary actions to control and adjust to changes that occur during treatment. In fact, taking good care of yourself is the most important task you will have during treatment.
So how should you care for yourself during cancer treatment?
1. Change how you work
Whether at the workplace or at home, your responsibilities will not go away just because you have cancer. However, your priorities must change during treatment. It is important to plan ahead for your treatment and make necessary adjustments to keep your business or home running even as you receive treatment. For example, you can request family members, trusted friends or neighbors to help with your house chores. You also can speak with your employer about time off, sick leave, reduced work hours, a flexible work schedule or telecommuting. By changing how you work, you will have more time to attend to your treatment sessions and care for yourself.
2. Develop a self-care plan
While your treatment team will create a plan focused on curing the disease and relieving symptoms, you need to develop a self-care plan to take care of your other needs. A self-care plan will help you to stay healthy, remain active and keep your life balanced during treatment. Your personal physician or cancer treatment team can help you to create an effective self-care plan.
A self-care plan includes:
- Physical activity to keep you strong: When carefully planned and not overdone, physical activity will refresh you, boost your strength and help you overcome fatigue. It also will boost your self-esteem and help you sleep better. Ask your personal doctor or cancer team for help with activities that are best for you during treatment.
- Plenty of rest: Fatigue is a common side effect of cancer treatment, so it is important to ensure you are well rested. Try to strike a careful balance between physical activity and rest, listening to your body and knowing your limits. If possible, request trusted friends and family members to help with errands and domestic chores during treatment. Always remember that you need enough rest to focus on your treatment.
- A balanced and nutritious diet: Proper nutrition will help your body handle the effects of cancer treatment and accelerate the healing process once treatment is concluded. Work with a nurse, doctor or nutritionist to know the kinds of minerals and vitamins you need in your food and to overcome treatment side effects such as nausea, mouth sores and changes in taste and smell, which may make it difficult to follow a regular diet.
- Relaxation techniques for managing stress: Visualization and relaxation techniques are invaluable tools for reducing stress and anxiety and controlling pain during cancer treatment. Visualization means using the mind to imagine yourself in a different place, time or circumstance, while relaxation techniques include breathing, mind-body exercises and muscle relaxation exercises.
- Positive thinking: A positive and hopeful attitude is necessary during cancer treatment. While a positive attitude does not mean you will not feel doubtful and anxious at times, it helps you to acknowledge that many people have survived from cancer and that you can too. As part of your self-care plan, make sure to connect with cancer survivors and have their stories inspire you. Also focus on various things in your life that encourage and bring you joy.
3. Treat the skin exposed to radiation with extra care
Radiation can cause your skin to become red and sensitive, like getting sunburn. Because of this, you need to follow the skin-care instructions given by your radiation oncology nurse carefully. For instance, you need to clean the treated area daily with mild soap and warm water as recommended by the nurse and avoid using any perfumes, lotions, powders or deodorants that are not approved by your doctor or nurse. You also must avoid putting anything cold or hot on the treated skin, including ice packs and heating pads. Likewise, alcohol-containing products and perfumes must be avoided. Moreover, you need to stay away from the sun and wear a protective hat or clothing when you have to be outdoors as well as protect the treated area with a sunscreen (SPF not less than 15).
4. Avoid getting pregnant
If you are a woman of childbearing age, it is important to avoid getting pregnant during treatment. Cancer treatment may cause severe adverse effects on your unborn child, so you must avoid pregnancy until you are advised otherwise by your doctor. If you think that you are already pregnant, inform your doctor or cancer team immediately.
5. Seek for support
Support groups and professional counseling during treatment will help you feel less isolated. With proper emotional support, you will be able to cope with the anxiety, depression, fear or hopelessness that comes with having cancer. Talk to your close and trusted friends, family members, social worker, nurse or psychologist about your situation. Ask your oncology nurse for a cancer support group in your area.
6. Follow your doctor’s orders
During treatment, your doctor will tell you to call immediately if you experience a fever of 101 or higher. Make sure to do so. Also make sure that you follow the doctor’s advice on how to care for yourself during treatment.