Being diagnosed with cancer is one of the most difficult things a person can experience. However, there are ways to combat it and to assist traditional treatments by getting proper nutrition and exercise.
The Pain of a Cancer Diagnosis
No one wants to hear that they’ve been diagnosed with cancer. However, it can be even more difficult to accept for people who have focused on living a healthy lifestyle. Cancer has often been described as a lifestyle disease, which implies that a person’s lifestyle has much to do with whether they get cancer or not. In some cases, this is true. For example, lung cancer is almost always caused by cigarette smoking. Secondhand exposure to cigarette smoke is just as likely to be factored into the majority of victims diagnosed with lung cancer.
In another example, mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs due to exposure to a fibrous substance known as asbestos. Asbestos was heavily implemented into numerous consumer products and building materials in the 1930’s and then banned in the late 1980’s after it was discovered that it was the direct result of mesothelioma cancer.
Most lung cancers have a very difficult prognosis for recovery. At the same time, roughly 30 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States have some relation to poor nutrition, excess weight and low physical activity.
For some cancers, such as breast cancer, there is usually a strong connections between the victim’s lifestyle and their diagnosis. High estrogen has been long thought to contribute to breast cancer, and high estrogen happens to be far more likely in women who are overweight. Similarly, skin cancer can be caused by high rates of sun exposure. However, both skin cancer and breast cancer have genetic links as well. In other words, it’s not always enough to have a healthy lifestyle to escape cancer.
Fighting Cancer With a Healthy Lifestyle
It’s never too late to embark upon a healthy lifestyle. Many cancer patients use the opportunity to do just that. Along with taking traditional treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, many patients jump onto the path of a healthy lifestyle. There are a number of steps patients can take to improve their physical strength during treatment and recovery. Even though there’s no last word on the best approach, there are several ways patients can help themselves, including:
- Minimizing or cutting out alcohol
- Switching to a plant-based diet
- Eating antioxidant-rich foods
- Avoiding processed food, sugar and salt
- Staying away from raw meats and dairy
- Washing plant food thoroughly
- Losing weight in a healthy manner
- Engaging in light to moderate physical activity
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Getting lots of sleep
Alcohol can be problematic during cancer treatment as it lowers the immune system and makes it harder for the liver to break down cancer drugs. Alcohol can also irritate mouth sores caused by some cancer treatments.
A plant-based diet is usually recommended for cancer patients as it naturally includes antioxidant-rich foods and is easier to digest. Processed food, sugar and salt can exacerbate inflammation.
Because cancer patients are highly at risk for infection, it’s very important to stay away from raw food and undercooked food. All plant food should be thoroughly washed to remove contaminants.
Sometimes overweight patients want to immediately lose weight. However, it’s important that weight loss is slow and steady. Losing large amounts of weight through not eating or eating very little will have the opposite effect.
Light to moderate physical activity like yoga or brisk walking is important to keep strength up. Similarly, cancer patients should always drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration from treatments and side effects like vomiting and diarrhea.
Coming out on the other end of a successful cancer battle can also be exhausting. Patients may feel weak and tired with little appetite for food or much else. It’s important to proceed through recovery cautiously by getting proper sleep, hydration and exercise. It’s also important to continue a plant-based diet with minimal amounts of alcohol, meat and sugary or salty foods. Exercise may be one of the most difficult things due to feeling weak, but it can help in the following ways:
- Reduce feelings of depression and anxiety
- Raise mood and self-esteem
- Fight pain and weakness
- Lower the risk of cancer coming back
- Improve sleep quality and quantity
A healthy lifestyle of diet and fitness can take patients through the stages of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Many patients see a distinct improvement in their outlook when they know that they’re taking control of some aspect of their lives.
Living a healthy lifestyle and fueling your body with whole foods is far more powerful than we think about on the day to day. Cancer is undoubtedly a tumultuous fight, but equipping yourself with the resources and knowledge to overcome what’s possible in your power is key.
Blog Post by Mary Flemming: Writer and Editor in Studies for Terminal Illness