Getting through treatment for blood cancer can feel overwhelming, scary, or like things are out of your control. Despite feeling like there’s nothing you can do to support your treatment, your role in taking care of yourself and your needs plays a big part in the process.
Taking an active role in your well-being during cancer treatment has several benefits, according to a 2011 article by researchers at Yale University School of Nursing. Such benefits include improved quality of life, better treatment outcome, more confidence about treatment and procedures, less distress about symptoms and side effects, and in some cases, even improvements in fatigue, pain, and nausea.
Here are the specific self-care tips can help you cope with blood cancer treatment and potentially improve your treatment outcome.
1. Get support from family, friends, or peers. You can also consider getting support from a professional therapist or counselor, or through a support group. In some cases, you may have to ask loved ones for the support. You might worry that you are “burdening” them, but you probably don’t need to fear that: Most people want to help, but just aren’t sure how. “I do often tell patients and their families that they are on this journey of wellness together,” says Ruthee-lu Bayer, MD, director of stem cell transplantation at Northwell Health.
2. Confide in your doctor. If something feels wrong or uncomfortable, don’t accept it as part of the process. Voice your fears, concerns, and problems. In some cases, doctors may be able to to adjust their approach or offer guidance to give you the best care. Here are important questions to ask your doctor during blood cancer treatment.
3. Advocate for yourself. Whether talking to your doctor or significant other, don’t be afraid to express the things you need, or to ask questions to get more information. “Patients should understand their diagnosis, they should understand the treatment for their diagnosis, [and they] should understand what support groups may be available to them,” says Dr. Bayer.
4. Get the resources you need to manage side effects. Like most treatments, cancer therapies can cause side effects. That’s unavoidable in some cases; however, it doesn’t mean you have to grin and bear it. With every part of treatment, you should know what side effects to expect and tips to cope with them, such as with ibuprofen or anti-nausea medication.
5. Maintain good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. While specific foods can neither cause nor cure cancer, a eating a nutritious diet and maintaining a healthy weight is linked to better tolerance of side effects, according to Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
One reason for this is that a healthy diet can help the body replace blood cells and tissues that are damaged during treatment. Plus, a nutritious diet boosts the immune system, which can help reduce the risk for additional diseases and complications.
The same nutrition guidelines for all Americans are ideal for cancer patients and survivors as well: eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, and limiting saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. (Learn more about nutrition during blood cancer treatment here.)
A nutritious diet is one aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Other important aspects to support your body during treatment include maintaining a healthy weight, exercise, stress management, getting enough sleep, and not smoking or abusing alcohol and other drugs.