Mind Over Madness: Living Well With Cancer

June 23, 2017

Tips for a renewed commitment to a healthy life for balance, focus and perspective.

Making healthy changes after a diagnosis is to be applauded and more importantly, supported. But in my practice, too often patients become hyper-focused on a single aspect of health that can undermine wellness itself. Even though I’m an oncology dietitian, it begs reminding that we could all focus on a renewed commitment to not just a healthy diet but a healthy life.

Here are some tips to help you find balance, stay focused and gain perspective.

1. Eat Well: A balanced diet includes veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, proteins and healthy fats to fuel and energize the body. The major *asterisk* here of course if unless your medical, radiation or surgical oncologist or oncology dietitian have given you specific restrictions based on your individual situation.

2. Exercise: This might mean walking to the mailbox and back or lifting soup-can-weights or hiking or hitting the gym. Whatever it means for you, exercise is important. When you exercise, you are present in the moment and less focused on worries. Studies show that exercise helps control stress and boost feel-good-endorphins. Talk to your doctor for an approved plan. Don’t know where to start? Talk to your doctor about a referral to physical therapy for a safe plan to start conditioning.

3. Get Enough Sleep: Insufficient sleep makes coping with challenges a particular difficulty. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per night for optimal function.

4. Hydrate: Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Hydration helps regular body temperature, aid in the absorption of vitamins and nutrients. Promotes optimal organ function. Try to flavor water with fresh/frozen fruits, citrus and herbs if water has a funky taste when you’re on treatment. **Unless otherwise directed by your oncology doctor or dietitian.

5. Live in the Moment: Accepting that some things are out of your control is damn difficult. Try to focus on living and being present right now instead of worrying about what will happen next week, next month or next year.

6. Pay it Forward: People who approach life with a positive attitude are less stressed. It might sound like a silly exercise but try to make mental list of the things for which you are grateful every night before you sleep.

7. Get Organized: Feeling out of control is fueled by being disorganized, which adds to general stress. Knowing where things are and reducing clutter let you focus on the more important things.

8. Meditate: I know, I know. Studies show that people who meditate regularly (even just three minutes! Three minutes!) feel calmer and more in control. There are countless ways to meditate. Try yoga. Take a walk in nature. Sit quietly. Spent time with your pet. Take a bubble bath. Or try a three to four minute audio guide easily found online.

9. Say “No” When Necessary: Boundaries are important. Don’t feel bad when you feel like you need to say no. Avoid taking on more than you can reasonably commit to and do not feel guilty about it.

10. Lean on Your Support System: Strong social connections means more than just Facebook. Truly staying connected with family and friends leads to less stress and better coping ability. Do not be afraid to ask for support during these times. It’s OK to take and your loved ones want to contribute. If you feel like this area is lacking, consider trying a support group or talk with your social worker.

If you're experiencing difficulties with any of these 10 points, I strongly recommend that you talk with your oncologist. The best cancer treatment is holistic and integrative and we don't just care for the disease, we care for you.

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Amanda Bontempo, MS RD CSO CDN

Twitter @amandabontempo

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