A Guest Post from Scott Sanders of cancerwell.org…
Most of us know someone who has battled cancer, yet when you become the person facing a cancer diagnosis, you may feel caught off guard and afraid of what the future holds. It’s called “battling” cancer for a reason—there’s no denying that cancer leaves you feeling physically and emotionally drained. That doesn’t mean you are a victim, though. You are an active participant in this battle, and the best way to fight back is to engage in daily self-care.
How Cancer Impacts Your Mind and Mood
It’s normal for cancer patients to feel fear and uncertainty, and when these feelings are combined with the physical symptoms you go through along with social pressures, it’s unsurprising that you would experience emotional and psychological effects. Some cancer patients tend to bottle up their feelings, especially if they feel like friends and family want to see them put on a brave face. You owe it to yourself to engage in activities that help you feel better, but that doesn’t mean you should deny any negative feelings. Self-care is about doing what’s best for you, and that includes processing how you truly feel. Sharing your feelings with someone else who has endured cancer, a professional in your cancer team, or a mental health professional can help.
Along with processing your feelings with someone who is supportive, practicing daily self-care is all about prioritizing your physical and emotional needs. If you aren’t in the habit of regular self-care, now is the time to put yourself first!
How to Meet Your Basic Needs
When physical symptoms hit, it can become hard to meet your basic needs like getting enough rest and good nutrition. Insomnia is common among cancer patients, as medication side effects, physical discomfort, and anxiety can all make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. If anxiety is keeping you awake, try meditation or recorded imagery exercises that you listen to before bed. Doing this will help quiet your mind so you can turn off the negative chatter that keeps you awake. You may also need to look for other ways to help induce sleep. Whether it’s pillow spray with calming scents that can promote slumber or a sound machine to help your brain turn off, there are numerous natural options to help you get the rest you need.
Cancer treatments can also affect your appetite and your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. If you struggle with any of these side effects, check in with your cancer team about getting help from a dietician. Not getting enough rest or proper nutrition leaves you weak, so your top self-care priority should be finding ways to meet these basic needs. Now might be a good time to even consider a meal delivery service if you have the energy to cook but not the wherewithal to plan meals. These services can provide quality ingredients with easy recipes you get the nutrients you need without draining yourself.
How to Feel Better Physically and Emotionally
Besides sleep and nutrition, it’s important to find other ways you can care for yourself daily that help you feel better both physically and emotionally.
Air Quality: Believe it or not, the air inside your home is often more polluted and unhealthy than the air outside. And because your immune system is weakened during cancer treatment, it’s very important to ensure that the air you’re breathing won’t expose you to any pollutants or allergens. In addition to changing your air filters on a regular basis and using filter brands that match up with your unit, get an air purifier with a HEPA filter (Amazon has a great selection) to trap harmful airborne particles.
Exercise: Even when you aren’t feeling your best, doing even a little exercise can make physical symptoms easier to manage, including a lack of energy and nausea. Being active also activates the feel-good chemicals in your brain, so it lifts your spirits and helps alleviate depression and anxiety. Many people turn to yoga and meditation to help them get the exercise they need while looking for ways to relax. However, there are certain times during cancer treatment when you may not be able to exercise, so consult your doctor first. As long as your doctor gives you the go-ahead, get in a combination of aerobic and strengthening exercises.
Self-image: It’s completely normal to experience low self-esteem during cancer treatment, but it doesn’t have to last. Though some chemotherapy treatments can cause hair loss, high-quality hair accessories are available to help you regain confidence. Scarves, hats, and wigs are great solutions for hair loss. With high-quality lace wigs, hair looks more natural because real or synthetic hair is combined with lace to create a gradual hairline around the face.
Nurture Spiritual Connection: Whether or not you are religious, finding some type of spiritual connection is a source of comfort and strength for many cancer patients. Staying active in a place of worship gives you the support of other parishioners in addition to spiritual fulfillment. Even if you aren’t interested in being part of a religious congregation, find ways to stay spiritually engaged on your own. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network in the US recommends repeating a religious passage that speaks to you as a meditative mantra. A poem or even repeating a single word, such as “peace,” can serve the same purpose.
Putting yourself first and making time for self-care doesn’t happen on its own. You must be intentional about making yourself a priority, but it’s absolutely worth it. Even when you’re in the midst of fighting cancer, daily self-care makes you stronger and more emotionally and spiritually balanced so life doesn’t feel like a battle.
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