Cancer wellness tips

Cancer treatment options have evolved and advanced over time, but there’s no denying that undergoing treatment for cancer can impact many aspects of a patient’s life. Because we want you to feel your best while in our care, below is some information pertaining to exercise, nutrition and pain management to help you maintain optimal health during your treatment.

Exercise and physical activity during cancer treatment

Studies have shown that cancer patients who remain active are better able to cope with their treatment and return to normal active lives sooner than patients who do not exercise. Active patients have more energy and a better attitude and, as it was put in one study, “The patients no longer feel like cancer patients.”

Always check with your doctor to make sure that you can start or continue an exercise program as well as what types of exercise he or she recommends based on your treatment plan. There are many exercise programs available throughout the Coastal Bend—consider finding a program close to home with hours of operation that work best with schedule.

Nutrition for patients with cancer

What you eat during your cancer journey can make a big difference in how you feel and in your recovery. Even though you may have side effects that affect your appetite and ability to eat, it’s important to “eat right” to keep up your strength and immune system. If you feel that your diet is especially a problem, we can refer you to a registered dietitian who can help you plan a program to get the nutrition you need to best fight your cancer—in many cases, your insurance will pay for these visits. Also, we have nutrition brochures/booklets with many helpful hints as well as recipes—if you’d like to have one, just ask.

Below are some general tips about nutrition for cancer patients and also about what to consider diet-wise when you’re experiencing side effects such as nausea or mouth soreness. For more detail on treatment side effects that cause dietary problems, our medical professionals have provided recommendations on how to best manage common side effects of cancer treatment.

  • Nutrition for cancer patients usually involves higher calorie foods and more protein—not the usual fruits and vegetables. Protein helps you keep your strength and helps to repair tissue damage done by cancer treatments.
  • Eat when you are able to. If you feel best in the morning, eat your biggest meal then. On the days when you are not able to eat, do what you can—liquid meal replacements are an option. If you are not able to eat for more than a couple of days, you need to let the doctor know.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially when you don’t feel like eating. “Fluids” does not mean just water—you can also drink/sip broth, fruit juices, ice cream or yogurt, sports drinks and many other options. But, during meals, don’t fill up on liquids if you’re able to eat solid food.
  • Keep easy snacks handy for when you feel like eating—peanut butter crackers, puddings and muffins are good choices, as are small boxes of dried fruits.
  • Some patients, particularly breast cancer patients, may gain weight during treatment. If you have gained weight, check with your doctor before you go on a low-calorie diet. While a restricted diet may be appropriate for some patients, if you have gained weight because of edema, or fluid retention, then other measures must be taken.
  • Sore mouth or throat may result from either radiation or chemotherapy treatments, but always check with the doctor to make sure that your pain is not from a dental problem. The doctor may also be able to give you medication that can reduce or eliminate mouth and throat soreness. If you are still having problems, it may be easier for you to eat soft foods like ripe fruits or applesauce, puddings, cottage cheese, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, cooked cereals or scrambled eggs. Avoid acidic foods like citrus fruits or tomato sauces, crunchy or rough foods and spicy foods.
  • Cancer treatment may also cause dry mouth, which makes it more difficult to chew and swallow food. In addition to the eating tips for sore mouth or throat, you can also do the following: sip water every few minutes, suck on hard candies or chew gum to help make more saliva and eat pureed foods or food with gravy or sauce to make it easier to swallow.
  • Sometimes cancer or cancer treatment can change the way you taste or smell foods, making it difficult to enjoy foods that you used to enjoy. Although these changes usually go away once you’re finished with treatment, you can better cope with the problem by eating foods that taste good to you now, trying other foods that may not be as strongly flavored or experimenting with different seasonings and marinades to make food more flavorful.
  • Nausea, whether caused by your cancer or by your treatment, can make it difficult for you to get the nutrition you need. Talk to your doctor if you have nausea, as he or she may prescribe medication to provide relief. If you still are having problems, try the following:
    • Eat foods that are easy on your stomach (such as toast, cooked cereals, bland fruits or vegetables, sodas and yogurt)
    • Avoid spicy, fried or strongly flavored foods
    • Eat small amounts frequently so that you will not get hungry (which can make your nausea worse) and rest, sitting up, after your meals.
  • Vomiting may be brought on by your treatment or other things. If vomiting lasts for more than a day or so, call your doctor, who may be able to prescribe something to calm your stomach. The above recommendations should help, but sometimes vomiting is unavoidable. If you are vomiting, there are a few things you can do to try to keep from vomiting again:
    • Don’t eat or drink anything until you have your vomiting under control
    • Once the vomiting has stopped, try taking small sips of clear liquids (bouillon, clear sodas, etc.). Start with one teaspoon every 10 minutes, slowly increasing until you can keep down two tablespoons every 30 minutes.
    • When you’re able to keep clear liquids down, you can move to a full-liquid or soft diet, still eating only small amounts.
    • Once you’re feeling better, you may ease back into your regular diet.
  • Diarrhea can be caused by your treatment and also other things such as emotional upset. As severe or long-term diarrhea can lead to dehydration, call your doctor if your diarrhea has lasted more than a couple of days. Some tips for coping with diarrhea include:
    • Drinking lots of fluids to replace what you have lost
    • Eating smaller meals throughout the day instead of three big meals
    • Eating or drinking foods high in sodium (bouillon) and potassium (bananas, apricot nectar or mashed potatoes). Sports drinks such as Gatorade also can help replace sodium and potassium you may have lost during a bout of diarrhea.
    • In addition to following a low-fiber diet, you may also want to avoid very hot or very cold foods or drinks and stay away from caffeinated products such as coffee, tea and some sodas. For some people, milk also can make diarrhea worse.
  • Constipation can be caused by prolonged bed rest, too little fiber or liquids in your diet or by certain pain medications that you may be prescribed during your treatment. Some tips to prevent constipation are:
    • Getting enough liquids every day to help keep your stools soft (at least eight eight-ounce glasses every day, for a total of 64 fluid ounces)
    • Drinking hot beverages (may help to spur a bowel movement)
    • Increasing the fiber in your diet (check with the doctor to make sure that this is okay to do)
    • Getting a little bit of exercise every day can help—ask your doctor if you may exercise and what type is best for you
    • If you have constipation that won’t go away, your physician may be able to recommend medicines that can help. Do not take laxatives or other preparations before talking to your doctor.
  • Depression or fatigue from both your cancer and its treatment may leave you feeling not much like eating. You need to let your doctor know if you’re down or exhausted, because it may be treatable. While fatigue and depression are not nutrition-related problems themselves, they may cause you to lose interest in food, which can cause nutrition problems. Some things you can do:
    • Get enough rest: Don’t push yourself, take naps and make your rest times special by doing (restful) things you enjoy
    • Get some exercise, with the doctor’s permission; a short walk may raise your spirits and ease your fatigue
    • Get support: When you can express your fears and gain some control through knowledge about your disease and treatment, you’re more likely to cope (and eat) better
    • Save some of your favorite foods for times when you can enjoy them (for example, not close to a treatment time)
  • Vitamins, minerals and alternative therapies: While cancer patients need to eat well during their treatment to help them keep their strength and to better fight their cancer, there is no evidence that certain vitamins, minerals or herbs, or large amounts of vitamins or minerals, will cure cancer or prevent its possible return. In fact, some vitamins or supplements may even cause your treatment to not work the way it should. Always talk to the doctor about any of these products that you’re considering before you take them and follow his instructions.

Once your treatment ends, most eating-related side effects will go away and you should start to feel better, including getting back your interest in food. In order to help you regain your strength and feel your best, we recommend following a healthy diet by:

  • Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, which provide vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that you need
  • Eating whole grain breads and cereals, which are good sources of fiber as well as additional nutrients
  • Not indulging in alcohol, sugar, high fat foods, salty foods or smoked or pickled foods. Choose low-fat proteins and eat small portions.
  • Not overdoing it in the kitchen—start off with easy, healthy recipes that are easy to prepare and make enough for leftovers so that you don’t have to cook as frequently.
  • Ask for help with grocery shopping

The important thing to remember about nutrition and food while you’re in cancer treatment is that what you eat can help you feel your best during your treatment and aid in your recovery. Sometimes treatment side effects will hamper your efforts to eat well—you need to let your doctor know when this happens because often these side effects can be minimized or eliminated.

If you have further questions about your diet and cancer, talk to your doctor, who can recommend additional resources for you.

Pain management during cancer treatment

While many patients fear that pain automatically goes along with a diagnosis of cancer, having cancer does not always mean that you will have pain. Because of advances in both treatments and medicines, there are now many ways for cancer patients to find relief from pain. The most important thing to know is that you have a right to pain relief and that you need to let your doctor know if you are in pain so that action can be taken.

When you discuss your pain with your physician, you will need to let him or her know details about your pain—where it hurts, what it feels like, how long it lasts—and other information so that he or she can properly assist you. It may be helpful to keep a pain record of when you have pain and what helps to ease it.

Cancer pain may be treated in several ways:

  • With medicines, either prescription or over the counter
  • With non-drug treatments such as biofeedback and other techniques
  • With surgery or radiation to shrink or remove the tumor

Medication, both prescription and over the counter, is frequently used to combat cancer pain. If you are taking pain medication, it’s important to remember the following:

  • You may not need prescription pain medication. Regular acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or aspirin are effective against many types of pain and may be all you need, especially if you take it as recommended. However, do not take any of these on your own without consulting your doctor because they may interfere with your cancer treatment.
  • Take your medicine on the schedule that it was prescribed—do not skip doses or try to “last” longer between doses. If you are taking narcotic pain relievers, you will not become addicted if you are taking the medicine for pain—if you wait for the pain to become worse, it may be harder to control taking your medication as prescribed.
  • Let the doctor know if your medicine does not work for the length of time that it is supposed to or if you are having side effects.
  • Pain medications work differently for different people, so your doctor may adjust your dosage or give you a different medication if you still have pain. The important thing is to let your doctor know if things aren’t right for you.

Non-drug treatments may be used in addition to or instead of medication to help you with cancer pain. Many patients find that they are able to take less medicine if they use relaxation, acupuncture, hypnosis or participate in support groups. Your doctor and his or her team can connect you to experts on these topics who can help you.