Cancer care: 4 ways to live a healthy lifestyle

Susan Cross Susan Cross CBT Therapist
Whether a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer or you’re coming to terms with your own diagnosis, adjusting to this new normal can be a physical, practical and emotional rollercoaster. Susan Cross, CBT Therapist, discusses lifestyle changes and support options that can make a big difference during this daunting time.

How cancer may change your life

While everyone’s experience of cancer is unique, it can be useful to hear from other cancer patients about the coping techniques they found helpful during their journey.

1. Focus on your mental health

Mental and physical health are naturally linked, so cancer and mental health symptoms can go hand in hand. Cancer can challenge mental health in many ways, threatening the patient’s future, self-worth, identity, relationships, body integrity and perspective. If left untreated, mental health problems can have a significant impact on emotional wellbeing. It’s natural and okay to feel upset following a cancer diagnosis, but if these feelings become constant or overwhelming, it’s worth taking action to manage and reduce the level of distress.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) provides patients with a space to talk and come to terms with their cancer and the distress it may cause. Treatment is flexible and tailored to address personal concerns and goals. CBT can help cancer patients address negative beliefs, expectations and behaviours, such as low mood, worries about the future, fears of recurrence or avoidance of treatment. It can also help patients cope better with uncomfortable symptoms or side-effects of treatment.

CBT tools and techniques are easy to learn and apply. Taking a holistic approach to living with cancer, which includes taking care of mental health, can lead to a better quality of life.

2. Eat a healthy diet

For some, managing the physical side effects of cancer treatment takes priority. A healthy diet is one of the best ways to influence overall health. Healthy eating helps maintain energy levels and wellbeing. It can also reduce the risk of new cancers developing. Research shows that eating a healthy diet could help prevent at least one in ten cancers in the UK. As a guide, a healthy diet includes:

  • regular meals
  • at least five portions of various fruit and vegetables a day
  • wholegrain carbohydrates such as brown rice and wholegrain pasta
  • lean protein such as pulses, fish, eggs, meat, poultry and vegetarian alternatives
  • dairy or dairy alternatives, e.g. soya, to provide calcium and other vitamins and minerals
  • two portions of fish per week, including at least one oily source
  • unsaturated oils and spreads in small amounts
  • eight cups/glasses of fluid a day
  • no more than 14 units of alcohol a week with at least two alcohol-free days
  • limited amounts of highly processed fast foods.

Living with cancer can make it more challenging to follow a healthy diet. It’s common to experience nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea and constipation, poor appetite and taste changes. Chemotherapy or radiotherapy may cause a dry or sore mouth which makes eating difficult. Likewise, complications due to the location of the cancer — such as tumours in the gastrointestinal tract — may physically limit the ability to swallow or digest food. Speaking to a Nutritionist can be helpful. They can provide advice on how to make food more palatable and nutritious: fortifying meals with richer ingredients or drinking calorific liquids can help, for example.

3. Get regular exercise

While there are no general guidelines about exercising with cancer, and it’s essential to get advice from an oncologist before embarking on a routine, in most cases exercise can improve quality of life for those living with cancer. Studies show exercise can speed up recovery after treatment, reduce stress and boost energy.

Generally, a moderate-paced activity such as walking 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week is helpful during treatment. But everyone’s different, and any routine should take into account overall fitness, diagnosis and other factors that could affect safety. Speak to a Personal Trainer who specialises in helping to rehabilitate cancer patients about low-resistance exercises that can be done at home or in the gym.

4. Pamper yourself

Cancer treatment can leave the body feeling depleted and in need of TLC. Likewise, coming to terms with body changes due to cancer can be challenging. Pampering treatments can provide a window of time to disconnect from the stress of living with cancer, helping patients feel revived and refreshed.

Our Relax and Restore treatments use a range of specifically designed techniques for the face, head, body, hands and feet that are completely safe and comfortable for people going through cancer. There is no need to have a GP consent for a Relax and Restore treatment.

Our therapists use a touch therapy developed by the Made For Life Foundation, accredited by the Complementary Medical Association and developed in close association with oncologists, surgeons, Macmillan and cancer specialists. The treatments are designed to allow the body to access the parasympathetic state, promoting rejuvenation on all levels by reducing stress and pain and improving sleep patterns.

Alongside medical treatment, holistic support for those going through cancer can make all the difference to the cancer journey. So whether you’re facing your own cancer diagnosis or want to support a loved one, take comfort in knowledge there are strategies to help.


Last updated Thursday 13 June 2019

First published on Thursday 13 June 2019