Cancer is one of the scariest medical diagnoses that you can get. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed, it's important to take time to reflect and make decisions about your care that feel right to you. Everyone's experience with cancer is different, so don't let anyone bully you into doing something you don't want to do. Along the way, you're going to need some self-care and support. My colleague Scott Sanders over at cancerwell.org, has written a guest article for us, sharing tips for keeping you as healthy and sane as possible through this difficult time. You can read his thoughts below.
Cancer and its treatment can dampen the soul, cloud the mind, and strain the body. And while medication can ease the pain and help you relax, adding an addictive drug to your daily routine may be part of your recovery plan you aren’t overly enthusiastic about. Keep reading for ideas on how to reduce your reliance on medications, reduce your symptoms, and feel better about your diagnosis through self-care.
Be mindful of your medicines
Opioids have become the go-to for pain treatment. They are fast-acting, strong, and effective. However, opioids are extremely addictive because they trigger your brain’s reward center. Further exacerbating the possibility of dependence is that the body learns to rely on the drugs and can experience severe withdrawal symptoms if denied access without warning. DrugRehab.org explains that the risk of addiction is low if you follow your doctor’s advice and dosing instructions.
Reach out for help
When you are hit with a devastating diagnosis such as cancer, it’s easy to feel like you are alone on an island surrounded by dead ends. But you are not alone. CureToday.com notes that both cancer patients and caregivers have numerous options for finding local support groups of people in similar situations. If you’d rather not reach out to strangers, don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family for help.
Watch what you eat
There’s an old saying, “You are what you eat.” What this means is that your body can function only as well as the fuel it is given. When you’re undergoing cancer care, your body is constantly being depleted by the disease as well as chemo, radiation, and other treatment methods. Chances are, you won’t feel like indulging in a feast each day, but you should make food a priority. The University of California San Francisco explains that women in breast cancer recovery should strive for a minimum of five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day, and limit caffeine intake to one or two cups of herbal tea within a 24-hour period.
There is little doubt that a good night’s sleep can help you feel better and be more ready to tackle the next day. But getting enough sleep while you’re in cancer treatment can greatly increase the likelihood of a positive long-term prognosis. Researchers have long studied the link between sleep and cancer and have found that a lack of sleep may in part contribute to your risk of developing cancer. Likewise, chronic sleep deprivation may disrupt the remission cycle and lead to cancer recurrence. Sleep may not be able to help you manage pain, but it can help you manage your mindset as it relates to discomfort. Strive for a regular bedtime and develop a soothing sleep ritual to ease your transition from daylight to dreamtime.
Add alternative treatments
There has been much talk in recent years about alternative treatment methods including massage, meditation, and acupuncture. Many experts argue that these are not alternatives at all, but rather complementary methods of self-care that can give you added strength while you’re fighting uphill. The US National Library of Medicine makes it very clear that acupuncture is a valuable ally in the battle against nausea, pain, and other symptoms related to cancer treatment.
While you will always need to maintain a relationship with your doctors and pharmacists, making a few changes to your day may help you manage your cancer and aid in treatment. Sleep, diet, and diligence are the keys to overcoming the worst of it and making sure your cancer treatment doesn’t usher in a new issue in the form of addiction.