Living with Cancer

Managing Stress

Day-to-day life with work, family and social obligations is often stressful. The additional stress of coping with your diagnosis and treatment regimens may seem overwhelming. Although staying positive isn’t always easy, the following strategies may help you relieve your stress and better cope with the difficulties of life with cancer:

  • Deep breathing has been shown to help reduce stress. Inhale deeply and hold your breath for a few seconds before exhaling fully. Talk to your doctor first if you have had any recent abdominal surgery to make sure deep breathing is safe for you.
  • Meditation may help clear your mind. Find a quiet, comfortable place and focus deeply on an object or your breath. Try to clear your mind and have an open, positive attitude. Repeat daily for a few minutes at a time.
  • Yoga can help improve concentration and physical health. You can find a local yoga class at many gyms and fitness studios, or you can even try online videos. Take into account your diagnosis, treatment, and general physical health to ensure the yoga class is not too strenuous for you.
  • Surround yourself with loved ones and pets.
  • Do what you love. Make time for hobbies and sports you enjoy.
  • Prioritize and set boundaries. It’s ok to say no and most things can wait. Ask for help when needed.
  • Take a walk. Even a 30 minute walk is enough to boost your mood and reduce stress.
  • Stay organized.

Although feeling down and having difficulty coping with your diagnosis is normal at first, these feelings should decrease after a couple weeks. If they do not, speak with your doctor about your feelings. You may be suffering from depression. Help is available and you do not need to suffer in silence. Please see the Frequently Asked Questions section for some of the signs and symptoms of depression.

Physical Activity

Physical activity has many benefits, including improved self-esteem and mood, reduced depression and anxiety, and increased energy and strength. Some research shows that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of cancer returning after recovery. It is recommended that patients with cancer remain active during and after treatment. However, you should speak with your doctor before beginning any physical activities to ensure they are safe for you. Follow the recommendations below for living a healthy, physically active life.

  • Avoid inactivity. Sitting for long periods of time increases the risk of certain types of cancer.
  • Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity (walking, gardening, canoeing) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (jogging, swimming, jumping rope) each week.
  • Lift weights and do other strength training exercises at least 2 days a week.
  • Use shorter sessions if it helps you. Several 10-minute sessions of exercise have similar health benefits as a 1-hour long exercise session.
  • Start slow. Slowly increase the length and intensity of your physical activity if you were inactive before. Build up to 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity a day.

Nutrition and Cancer

Healthy eating habits can improve your overall health, boost your mood, and help you cope with some of the side effects of cancer and its treatment. Consider the following tips on maintaining a healthy lifestyle:

  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Limit your intake of red, grilled or processed meat
  • Increase your fiber intake.
  • Exercise regularly. Aim for 150 minutes of exercise per week with at least two sessions of strength training exercises per week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit alcohol to fewer than 1 drink a day for women and fewer than 2 drinks a day for men
  • Do not smoke

Cancer treatment often causes side effects, such as nausea, diarrhea, mouth sores, and taste changes. These side effects may make it difficult to eat or drink enough each day. Keep the following tips in mind to help you get the nutrition you need:

  • Speak with your healthcare team about adding a multivitamin or liquid nutritional supplements and snacks to your diet.
  • If you have bothersome mouth sores, use a blender or food processor to make food smooth. Juices and smoothies may help keep your mouth moist.
  • Eat 6 smaller meals instead of 3 large meals. Make sure you meet your calorie goals each day.
  • If water tastes unpleasant, take in liquids through other foods and drinks, such as sports drinks, soups, teas, milk, or adding cut fruit to your water.
  • If your mouth is sore, avoid acidic and spicy foods until you heal.
  • If food tastes bland, season it well with flavorful spices.
  • If certain foods are not appealing anymore, try substituting them with foods with similar nutrients. If meat makes you feel sick, try getting protein from fish, eggs, cheese, beans, nuts, tofu or protein shakes.
  • If you have a metallic taste in your mouth, use mints, gums or citrus fruits. Cook food in non-metal pots and pans and use plastic utensils. Try brushing your teeth before eating.

Quitting Smoking

It is never too late to quit smoking. Smoking increases your risk of cancer and heart disease. Life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years shorter than that of non-smokers. Quitting smoking before the age of 40 reduces your risk of dying from smoking-related causes by 90%.

  • 1 year after quitting, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker.
  • 5 years after quitting, your risk of mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder cancer is half that of a smoker. Your risk of cervical cancer and stroke are similar to a non-smoker’s risk.
  • 10 years after quitting, your risk of lung cancer is half that of a smoker.
  • 15 years after quitting, your risk of heart disease is the same as a non-smoker.
  • Other benefits of quitting smoking include: saving money, food tastes better, your breath, clothes and hair smell better, less premature wrinkling, less gum disease and tooth loss, ability to do more activities without losing your breath (such as climbing stairs).

Quitting smoking is not easy, but there are strategies that will help you achieve your goal to become smoke-free. Some strategies include:

  • Set a date for your Quit Day and prepare to quit. Stay busy. Avoid situations where you have a strong urge to smoke. Avoid alcohol.
  • Talk to your doctor about using nicotine replacement therapy, such as a patch, gum, nasal spray, inhalers, or lozenges. Some prescription drugs may also help you quit, such as varenicline or buproprion.
  • Look for support. Tell friends and family about your Quit Day. Set up a support system of people who have quit and are willing to help. Ask friends and family that smoke to not smoke around you or leave cigarettes out.
  • Fight the urge to smoke by delaying for 10 minutes, breathing deeply, drinking water slowly, and doing something else to distract you. Nutrition Recommendations During and After Treatment.

American Cancer Society. How to Quit Smoking or Smokeless Tobacco. Physical Activity Tips for Survivors.