5 Ways to Practice Self-Care When You’re Fighting Cancer

Cancer shakes up everything. Your previously calm, predictable life becomes a flurry of specialist visits, treatment plans, and insurance claims. It’s enough to make anyone feel like they’re going insane. If you’re going to keep your head above water during this difficult time, you need to be deliberate about self-care. Here are five things you can do to take care of yourself through the cancer journey.

Cultivate moments of normalcy

In the chaos of cancer treatment, moments that you might have once considered banal become precious. Cherish your family dinners, your Netflix marathons, your walks with the dog. Even if it’s only for a few minutes, these ordinary moments transport you away from cancer stress and back to a time that work deadlines and mortgage bills were your biggest sources of stress.

Don’t give up on your hobbies

Yes, it’s hard to find time for hobbies in this whirlwind you’re living in. Yes, it’s hard to feel up to it even if you can find the time. But you need to keep doing the activities you enjoy in order to maintain balance in your life, and hobbies are a much healthier distraction than drugs or alcohol. Hobbies are also an important way to stay connected to your social support system so you have people to lean on when you’re struggling to stay upright on your own.

Seek sleep

If your diagnosis has you feeling stressed and anxious, you may find you’re not sleeping as well at night. But sleep is critically important for physical and mental health, so rather than accept insomnia as your fate, find ways to help yourself sleep. The National Sleep Foundation offers tips for better sleep, like avoiding electronics before bedtime, keeping a consistent sleep-wake schedule, and winding down with a relaxing activity before going to bed. If it’s negative thoughts keeping you up at night, try writing them out in a journal each night before you go to bed.

Don’t let addiction sneak up on you

Some of the drugs used in cancer treatment have the potential to cause addiction, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid medicines that can help you. Prescription opioids can provide important pain relief for people experiencing cancer pain, and they’re safer for long-term use than over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs. But you do need to take caution to prevent addiction from developing. Risk of addiction is low as long as you take the lowest effective dosage, follow your doctor’s instructions, and never mix medications without your doctor’s approval.

Focus on what you can control

One of the scariest parts of a cancer diagnosis is feeling like your health and future are out of your hands. Rather than focusing on what you can’t change, put your energy towards what you can. You can’t stop chemotherapy from having nasty side effects, but you can adopt lifestyle strategies that minimize their blow. (For tips on how, read this advice from the University of Iowa.) You may have no choice but to cut your hours at work, but you can still find other ways to feel productive and contribute to the household. While negative thoughts will still creep in, this strategy stops them from taking over.

When you’re fighting cancer, self-care is more critical than ever. But self-care during cancer isn’t about spa days, and it’s not about avoiding the realities of your diagnosis. Instead, it’s about doing the things that make you feel like you — not a diagnosis or a number on a medical chart.

Scott Sanders

Author and Creator of cancerwell.org

[email protected]

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