Exercise and nutrition may be low on your list of priorities after a cancer diagnosis, but putting yourself in the strongest possible position, mentally and physically, means you can make the most of each day, manage your treatment and be there for those you care about.
Exercise will only be sustainable if you are enjoying it. Choose something you can do with a friend or use this time to unwind away from others.
Listen to your body and the advice of your doctors. If you have never exercised or haven’t trained for a long period, start with a walk. Just the process of breaking routine and moving your body will release endorphins, making you calm and a little happier.
Being outside means you will absorb vitamin D from sunlight which helps to protect bones by regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in our bodies.
Consult your specialists about taking on a little more exercise. It will be inappropriate for some cancer patients to raise their heart rate or stress lung function.
Others should avoid lifting weights, particularly in the early months following surgery. However, there will always be something that is right for you when your energy levels allow.
It may be worth investing in one session with a personal trainer who will be able to create a programme you can do safely on your own.
Marking your progress with exercise fosters confidence in your body. If you can achieve this much, what else could you do?
When you are unwell, eating healthily is sometimes the very last thing on your mind and that’s OK. Write those days off and try again the next day.
If your appetite is poor, eat small meals at regular intervals and try not to miss breakfast which helps regulate your metabolism. What we eat and drink impacts us both physically and mentally.
It affects our mood, focus, sleep patterns and decision-making and therefore those around us, too.
Our bodies are able to endure much more than we give them credit for. When working through any illness, it’s vital we invest in our bodies and support them so they can withstand treatment and repair, whether this is drug therapy, surgery or a combination of both.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet will improve your recovery rate from each stage of treatment. Obesity creates a much greater risk of anaesthetic complications and wound healing issues.
Lean protein, such as chicken and fish, will assist bone and muscle repair. Include a range of vitamins and minerals by eating fruit and/or vegetables with every meal and making your plate as colourful as possible.
Stick to wholegrain carbohydrates, such as wholegrain bread, pasta and rice, for long lasting energy. White carbohydrates create a quick boost of energy and an equally fast slump, leading to low mood.
Every cell and organ in our body needs water to function. It’s important not to be dehydrated.
Our biological feedback here is in our urine – which should be colourless – and we should drink whatever amount of water we need to make this happen. Two litres is widely suggested but the amount will vary according to your physical size and exercise level.
Smoking creates risk under anaesthetic, poor wound healing and affects our strength and energy levels. It is vital to get off nicotine at least six weeks before surgery and stay off it, at least until surgical wounds are healed. Speak to your GP if you feel you need help.
Your sleep may be affected so explore mindfulness apps like Headspace and Calm, where we guide our thoughts by simply listening and engaging.
Try one of these an hour before bed, to help regulate your breathing and heartbeat and induce sleep – or first thing in the morning, to calm anxieties about the day ahead. Exercise will also help your body relax and sleep.
The more pressure we put on ourselves to perform, either professionally or in our relationships, the further we fall when we are feeling physically or mentally compromised. It’s not a helpful strategy.
If you are in the eye of the physical and mental tornado that is cancer, go back to basics.
Put one foot in front of the other. Get through today the best way you can and try again tomorrow.
Let that be enough. Make a list of the practical and emotional things that are bothering you and work through them, no more than one at a time, with your medical team and those close to you.
Take help when it is offered. Don’t look back and don’t look too far ahead and don’t assume the worst-case scenario before you have answers to your questions.
Make sure your life is more than an endless round of appointments and tests and that you also have some treats to look forward.
Finally, trust your inner strength.