Why do you need to worry about self-care when you are already being looked after by health professionals?
Straight away, as soon as you get a cancer diagnosis things can seem to get out of control. With all the demands of treatments, dealing with side effects, work, family, surgery …. Life can seem to be an endless task of appointments and exhaustion, and time for ourselves can seem limited.
Treatments and side effects will go on, but we can make the decision to take time out, care for ourselves and get some control back into our lives.
Why is self-care with a cancer diagnosis important?
Coping with a cancer diagnosis can be one of the most stressful experiences of someone’s life and it is important to recognize that self-care during cancer is neither self-indulgent nor selfish. It’s about taking care of yourself (or anyone with cancer) no matter what stage they are at.
Addressing your needs when you have cancer can help build resilience and provide the mental strength to face what’s ahead. Regular self-care practices can in fact reduce some adverse effects of treatment, stress, sleep disturbances and anxiety.
There’s absolutely no right way to cope and deal with cancer and no best self care ideas. It’s about determining what’s best for you. It sometimes means cozying up on the couch and watching a movie, going for a walk, chatting to loved ones, or spending time by yourself.
This article discusses self care ideas that may be helpful in getting cancer patients to address their needs and to look after themselves during this stressful time.
Physical self-care during cancer
This type of self care is the amount of rest you get, the number of hours you do physical activity and the manner in which you look after your body. Attending appointments with your doctor if needed, taking proper medication and managing physical health, as much as is relevant, should be the focus of your physical well-being.
Move your body
Regular exercise, where possible, can be good for you. This will depend on where you are with your cancer treatment and what stage your cancer is. Movement can also help you avoid certain forms of cancer developing again. If you’re new to exercising, start slow and build up. Perhaps talk to your doctor or healthcare professional if you are concerned about whether you should be exercising right now.
Certain medications have side effects that affect eating habits and/or may cause, for example, nausea or problems swallowing. And cancer itself can change the appetite too. So it’s important for cancer patients to take advice on how to get the goodness of healthy food inside you, when you may not feel up to eating.
Drinking water helps keep the body in balance but it is not always easy to drink a lot if you feel sick, which can be a by-product for patients undergoing cancer treatment. In addition, dehydration is a risk for people undergoing cancer treatment and can be serious and even life-threatening if left untreated. So make sure you keep your water intake up if you can. Having a water bottle always at hand can help with this.
Take your medication as directed
If you have been prescribed medicine for pain or nausea, it doesn’t make sense not to take them and to give yourself a hard time. Cancer and its treatments can all take their toll and no one expects you to suffer more than necessary.
Mental Health Self-Care
Mental self-care includes things to keep your mind clear, like finding puzzles or learning something that fascinates you. A practice of self-compassion and acceptance helps you maintain a healthy inner dialogue and could be important in the cancer journey and reducing stress (which is very important for emotional and mental self care)
Prepare for cancer treatment side effects
When you understand what may or may not happen on your cancer journey, you can be better prepared mentally and physically. Talk to your doctor about what to expect from your cancer treatment, ask what you can do to prepare and what things may help with any side effects.
Be specific in asking for help
There may be friends, loved ones, colleagues or family members who want to help, but they don’t know how. You could ask someone for help with a specific task to relieve some of the chores of day-to-day living, whilst you focus on yourself and your cancer treatment.
Get plenty of sleep
Taking as much rest and sleep as you need is a form of self care and will help keep you mentally and spiritually focused, as well as letting your body rest.
Try starting a cancer journal
Several cancer patients find journaling an excellent help. The time you have to record what you think about can help to calm down the mind and reduce stress.
Keep up with your hobby or find a new one
Hobbies, or doing something you instinctively love and find fun can also lessen the cancer burden. The good news is that anything and everything that you enjoy will do – gardening, trainspotting, yoga, art, sewing…..there is no perfect joy-filled activity idea for self-care. As long as you can, keep doing these things or introduce new activities into your routine.
Give yourself time out
Time for yourself can help relax your mind and give you more mental energy. In addition, specific alone activities like spending time in nature or being with animals can lead to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol which can help you maintain wellness.
Mindfulness when you have cancer can help you increase your well-being, feel more empowered, be more resilient, feel thankful, live strong, and thrive.
A solid support system is very important to the wellness of cancer patients. It can provide companionship, empathy, and normalcy. It may be important to you to be with loved ones, but this can be equally found from friends and family. Sometimes this is not possible or maybe you need extra help?
For more formal social support, look for free cancer support groups in your hometown or online. You can also contact a counselor with cancer expertise. You could also try social media support groups, like our Touched by Cancer Facebook group.
Research suggests that religion and even spirituality is in general a healthier lifestyle. Nurturing your spirit doesn’t have to involve religion. It can involve whatever helps you develop a more understanding for yourself. Spiritual care is a way of making your spiritual needs well met.
It is important for cancer patients to have effective coping strategies in order to deal with stress and discomfort. Emotional self-care can consist of activities to help you admit and express your feelings frequently. How can you handle anxiety or sadness?
Giving your emotions free rein, or at least acknowledging your emotional state and moving on is an important part of self-care.
There are ways for getting help for this, and they range from individual to support groups to peer support. Your healthcare professional might be able to point you in the right direction. Or you can try to find something local using our free cancer directory.
Make your needs a priority
Self-care is not a luxury and is a must for cancer patients. Enjoy the process of discovering what seems good to you and then asking for help to integrate these activities into your routine, where possible.
If you know someone with cancer
If you know someone with a cancer diagnosis it’s important to understand how you can help them at this difficult time. You can be there to listen, help with their chores and/or encourage them to practice self care and perhaps have some self care ideas for them?
In addition, we have a cancer self care package that could help show your support.
27 specific self care ideas for the moment
In no particular order.
Please note that not every idea will gel with you and some may not fit with your cancer diagnosis or treatments. They may even be detrimental depending on your cancer stage and treatment so if in doubt, leave it out!
- Spend time with friends and loved-ones.
- Take a bubble bath or a detox bath (use epsom salts and essential oils), if your treatments allow it.
- Think of things you’re grateful for.
- Watch your favorite movie.
- Have relaxing face mask.
- Fill in a fun adult coloring book.
- Take a long shower, dry your hair, and put on clothes that make you feel good.
- Try something new.
- Get in bed 30 minutes to an hour earlier so you can read and unwind.
- Spend twenty minutes unfollowing accounts on social media that make you feel less-than.
- Make one small change in your day.
- Add a new skill to a daily task as part of your routine.
- Watch a motivational TED Talk.
- Write a gratitude list.
- Look at positive affirmations, cancer inspirations, memes and quotes or instructional / funny cancer cartoons.
- Read positive cancer experiences.
- Start an indulgent post-shower ritual.
- Focus on doing what makes you feel calm and connected.
- Start your day off on a positive note.
- Write a regular journal and include how you feel.
- Put your phone on “do not disturb.”
- Have a walk in nature.
- Create calming morning and nighttime routines.
- Grab a drink with a friend.
- Give your eyes a break and put your ears to work, listen to music, a postcast or the radio.
- Light your favorite candle and really pay attention to the scent.
- Pet an animal (helps the body to release calming hormones).
Resources to help
We have several free resources for people with cancer. These aim to help and inform you during various stages and cancer treatments.
- Cancer Freebies – CancerFreebies.com
- Support Articles – CancerSupportArticles.com
- Cancer Shop – CancerShopping.com
- Cancer Cartoons and Infographics – CancerCartoons.com
- Inspirational Cancer Quotes – InspirationalCancerQuotes.com
- International Cancer Directory – InternationalCancerDirectory.com
- International Cancer Event Listings – CancerEventListings.com
There is no best way to look after yourself and no perfect self care ideas. We hope that this has given you some ideas of how to take care of yourself during this difficult time. If every day you can look after your physical, emotional and mental health, just a little bit, it may be a small step to help you cope with what is going on.
Dr Cohen started her working life as a research scientist and lecturer with over 100 peer-reviewed scientific publications.
She followed a classical scientific career until she left mainstream science in 2000 (which coincided with the birth of her first daughter) to establish the Life Science Communications company, Euroscicon Ltd.
Euroscicon Ltd was her first company (which she sold in 2016).
In 2013 Dr Cohen was diagnosed with Cancer and set up Cancer Care Parcel which provides appropriate gifts for people with cancer.
Dr Cohen is the lead scientific advisor at Optimised Healthcare. A medical profiling company which provides advanced disease prediction, prevention and wellness optimization services.
She also works with and establishes businesses and charities which benefit local, national and international communities.