Congratulations! If you are reading this, it’s likely that you have completed or in the process of completing your cancer treatments. This is a huge accomplishment and now you should be thinking about how to build back your life as you recover from the effects of treatment. The first step of recovery is determining what your next steps should be.
As you move forward, your choices regarding your post-treatment lifestyle can mean the difference between experiencing continued weakness and fatigue or increased energy and the ability to get back to doing the things you love to do. Partnering with your oncology physician and an oncology physical therapist to make the right lifestyle choices will set you up to live your best life.
What You May Experience Post-Treatment
Side effects from chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery will vary based on your physical condition before treatment and the type of treatment you undergo. Generalized symptoms post-treatment may include emotional stress, depression, high levels of fatigue, decreased energy and reduced muscle strength. These symptoms can all be addressed with careful attention to your diet, nutrition, and relevant exercise. All of these can help to minimize the effects on your quality of life.
Best practices for post-treatment recovery center around physical health and mental health. For physical health, this means focusing on exercise, gradually increasing your activity levels and improving your diet/nutrition. For mental health, this often means adopting or participating in meditation, counseling, and support groups.
Exercising even as much as 20 minutes a day can significantly improve your health. Your oncology physical therapist will work with you to find exercises that are appropriate for your current level of function and where you are in your treatment. Research continues to show how exercise can improve your quality of life and help you to recover better. As a matter of fact, experts now recommend exercise as PART of cancer treatment. You can read more here: Harvard Health: Exercise as Part of Cancer Treatment.
While the experts recommend “avoiding inactivity during cancer treatment and beyond”, ensuring you do rest during your recovery is also essential. Your rest can be disrupted by going through treatments, so take the time to establish a consistent bedtime routine, if you don’t have one. Find a wind-down routine that works for you. Behavioral changes that can help are: staying off electronic devices a few hours before bed, avoiding caffeine and high amounts of sugar, not drinking too close to bedtime to avoid needing to get up in the night, and performing light stretches or doing yoga. You can also try getting a white noise machine to drown out distracting sounds, especially if you’re a light sleeper.
A diet that meets your nutritional needs is also important for maintaining your physical health. After (or during) treatments, you may experience a loss of appetite. While it may be tempting to drink only fluids and take your vitamins, refraining from healthy foods will not help your body rebuild and recover, especially if you are incorporating exercise into your recovery plan. ORW offers nutritional services to help you find foods that are both palatable and nutrition-rich, as well as meal planning to help you get back on track.
Physical stress affects your emotional capabilities. More than ever, destressing from sensory overload is important for your mental health. Healthy ways of destressing include talking with a therapist, meeting with a support group and performing meditative exercises such as yoga and deep breathing. Having people who will listen to your story and encourage you is essential to your emotional stability.
Creating Your New World
You have undergone something life-changing and have come out on top. Even when you may not feel like a conqueror, you, in fact, are one. The endurance, resiliency, and patience you gain from going through such an experience is valuable for all aspects of life. Psychologist Viktor Frankl, an Auschwitz survivor, once wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
When you have some time to yourself, take a while to visualize what you would like your future active lifestyle to look like. This could be as simple as being fit enough to go on a cruise with your children or something more ambitious like thru-hiking a famous trail. Your oncology physician can also help you set reasonable expectations and reachable goals for your health. Then, whatever your goal is, know that you don’t need to reach it all at once. The key to reaching lofty goals is to build up marginal gains and do a little bit each day. As with your treatment, slow and steady wins the race.
Your post-treatment recovery goal should be to rebuild your health – and working with your oncologist and oncology physical therapist can be very helpful as you navigate your post-treatment life (or your life living with cancer). We would love to offer our help to you or to your patients in this regard. Oncology Rehabilitation and Wellness has a proven track record of decreasing negative after-effects of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, and helping cancer survivors live at ease, reach their goals and to live optimally- with – or beyond cancer.
Learn more about our cancer recovery program here. If you would like to contact us about our services, we would be happy to answer you here. We also offer complimentary consultations during which we can discuss your individual situation, your goals and how we may be able to help you. It takes a team to fight cancer – and we would love to be a partner in your recovery.