Self Care Essentials When You’re Experiencing Cancer by Craig Meadows

A guest blog post from Craig Meadows, former cancer patient and founder of Surviving Day One.

When you have a cancer diagnosis, medical care becomes a regular part of your life. But what about self care? Making time for yourself and prioritising your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs is just as important as getting the best medical care. Making self care part of your routine helps you to feel better, stronger, and can even help you to manage pain.


Build Mind-Body Awareness

Cancer takes a toll on your body, so you may not want to focus on how you’re feeling. But if you can push through that mental block, you may benefit from doing a practice like yoga or tai chi that increases awareness of what’s going on in your body. These activities combine physical movements with focus on your breath, which relieves stress and anxiety. If you’re not ready for a structured practice, simple stretching can have the similar benefits. Many report that a quick stretch can go a long way to boosting your energy, easing joint pain, and improving your circulation.  

Besides helping you feel more emotionally balanced, this mind-body awareness also helps you work through pain. Managing pain through cancer can be tricky, as more patients and doctors are becoming aware of the addiction risk from opioid medications. Deciding the best course of action for you should always be based on open communication between you and your doctor. If you both agree that prescription opioid medications are best for managing your pain, make sure you ask plenty of questions so you’re completely informed. You may choose to start with a lower dose to help prevent the risk of addiction, and incorporating alternative practices like physical therapy can make that easier by giving you another tool for managing pain and anxiety. If this is something you are worried about, your doctor is able to help you.


Take Care of Your Body

Holistic practices like yoga bring together the mind and body components of self-care, but self-care must extend beyond the yoga mat into the rest of your life. Try to find a way to incorporate different types of exercise into your routine several times a week. Even when you aren’t feeling 100 percent, getting active will make your body stronger for battling cancer. Many people find a deep spiritual connection to being in nature, so try hiking and other outdoor activities. Jennifer Young blogger, Penny, has explained in past blog posts how exercise, diet and nature helped her through treatments for breast cancer.

Penny also emphasises how taking care of your body also needs to include balanced nutrition. Just like exercise, nutrition is essential for making your body as strong as possible. Try to eat more healthily, mood-improving foods like avocados, spinach, kale, nuts, and eggs. If you need some cooking tips, you can take online cooking lessons & classes. You may even learn some healthy recipes as well. If you’re struggling with side effects that make getting good nutrition harder, consult Jennifer Young’s recommendations for managing these side effects.

A great way to manage some of the side effects of treatment and the cancer itself is massage. While a massage will most certainly help you relax and offer an oasis to escape to where you can clear your mind, it also provides physical and mental benefits such as better circulation, relief from sore muscles, and decreased inflammation/swelling. A comprehensive overview of the various studies on the benefits of massage for cancer patients has found that massage can lessen treatment-related nausea, reduce cancer fatigue, improve sleep, provide temporary but immediate relief from cancer-related pain, and improve overall quality of life. If you want to give massage a try, let the therapist know about your cancer diagnosis and related symptoms so that the two of you can come up with a plan that works for you. Jennifer Young's Spa & Therapist Finder lists therapists and spas trained by The Jennifer Young Training School and able to offer suitable treatments with suitable products. 


Keep Living (With Optimism)

You may feel like life has thrown you a curveball when you get a cancer diagnosis. Fear and worry about the future is entirely normal, but focusing on that fear is unhealthy and robs you of the life you should be living. If you find yourself getting bogged down in these thoughts, one expert at Healthy Women recommends allowing yourself 15 minutes a day to think about your concerns. After those 15 minutes, make it a priority to enjoy your day free of those thoughts. The best thing you can do is to continue being yourself and doing whatever makes you happy. Even something simple like redecorating your home can lift your spirits. Make time to do something relaxing everyday too, like pampering yourself with a relaxing bath or reading a good book.

Jennifer Young Bloggers Keely, Laura and Sam have discussed how they manage their emotions and keep their spirits lifted following a diagnosis.  Keely talks about the routines to help pamper yourself to a peaceful mind, Sam about mental health following a diagnosis and Laura discusses positivity and how she achieves it.


Make Connections

Part of good self-care is making sure you don’t isolate yourself after a cancer diagnosis. Do whatever you can to stay involved in your normal activities, and work on strengthening your relationships with friends and family members. After all, being a wife, husband, brother or sister is part of who you are. Your close friends and family want to be there for you, so don’t be afraid to lean on their support. You may also benefit from connecting with other cancer patients, especially an online cancer support community.

Loneliness and cancer is an important topic, even though it is not something which is frequently discussed in the doctors' office. This is still a large part of your emotional and physical wellbeing. Former breast cancer patient, Leah, offers support and advice for those experiencing loneliness following a diagnosis.


It may feel like there are a lot of hurdles to good self-care when you have a cancer diagnosis, but remember that self-care doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t need to be expensive. Even simple changes can make a big difference in how you feel. The important thing is to care for your whole self -- mind and body.

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