by Nicole Hutchison
Cancer. What thoughts and feelings does the word produce in you? For me, instant fear. Fear of the unknown, uncertainty, loss of control. Then a step back, a deep breath, and perspective. What is known, what is certain, and of what do I have control? Optimizing our health, even with a diagnosis such as cancer, empowers us and gives our bodies a fighting chance to heal. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, there are many options to consider in addition to traditional medical intervention.
Optimizing health physically. Our bodies require sleep, hydration, nutrition, and movement to be physically healthy. What is right for one person may not be what’s right for another, but follow some good basic guidelines.
A good rule of thumb is 7-9 hours of sleep per night but when our bodies are stressed, we often need more than this. Be gentle with yourself when you feel your body asking for more rest.
Drink half your body weight in ounces daily. Hydration should be primarily water and green teas. Limit your consumption of caffeine and alcohol. Eliminate beverages with artificial sweeteners or those high in sugar.
Nutritional recommendations and cancer can sometimes be controversial, and, depending on your particular diagnosis, there may be specific guidelines your physician will recommend you to follow. In general, opt for fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods over processed foods. Enjoy a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and grains. Limit your intake of fish, poultry, lean meats, and nonfat or low-fat dairy foods. If you are struggling with a loss of appetite, rapid weight loss, or other obstacles, consult with your physician about seeing a dietitian. Also talk with your physician about what supplements, if any, you should be taking.
Study after study supports the importance of exercise when battling cancer as it can increase immunity, decrease depression and anxiety, increase strength and endurance, and reduce pain. General guidelines include 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, strength training at least twice a week, maintain joint mobility with regular gentle stretching, and incorporate balance activities throughout your week. Be sure to consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.
Optimizing health mentally. A cancer diagnosis, places an immense amount of stress on the body. Finding healthy ways to stimulate your mind and release stress can be fun. Incorporate things you enjoy into your daily schedule such as reading, playing a musical instrument, painting, or other hobbies. Practicing mindfulness meditation has been proven to improve relaxation and sleep. According to mindful.org, “People with cancer are the best students! They’re the most dedicated practitioners, because, in a way, they have the most to lose. It’s that recognition that life is temporary that allows us to live more fully in the moment. People don’t ask to be diagnosed with cancer, but they’re given an opportunity to, in a real sense, experience the vividness and the exquisiteness of the moment.” My personal favorite mindfulness author is Jon Kabat-Zin, and the app I most often recommend to my clients is Insight Timer.
Optimizing health emotionally. According to The National Cancer Institute, up to 25% of cancer survivors experience symptoms of depression and up to 45% experience anxiety. Many also experience symptoms meeting the criteria of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Most concerning is that survivors are twice as likely to commit suicide than the general population. Seek a mental health counselor you feel comfortable with during treatment and for ongoing support throughout recovery. Stay active socially with friends and loved ones, resisting any urge to isolate. And last but not least, find something that makes you laugh each and every day. Laughter is the best medicine, after all.
Optimizing health spiritually. Spiritual needs vary based on cultural and religious beliefs. During times of serious illness, spirituality can be a source of peace, comfort, and relief of anxiety, but it can also be a time of doubt or loss of faith. Take time to talk with someone you trust about any spiritual distress you may be feeling, seeking out experienced spiritual or religious leaders. Connecting with your higher power and strengthening your faith will have a positive impact on your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
The interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit health and wellness means we can’t choose just one area to focus on and ignore the rest. It can seem a little overwhelming, but remember, you do not have to do this alone. Surround yourself with a team, choosing each team member with care. In addition to family and friends, consider life and health coaches, physical therapists, personal trainers, nurses, holistic care providers, dietitians, mental health counselors, social workers, and spiritual directors to name a few. Your team will be with you every step of the way to offer direction and support, as you focus on the importance of daily self-care so your body can repair and heal.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” ~Helen Keller
Editors note: Nicole Hutchison, owner and CEO of Statera Integrated Health and Wellness Solutions, is also a Licensed Physical Therapist, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and dual certified Health Coach with ACE and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.