Life after cancer treatment can be very daunting. You have finished your last cancer treatment and you feel ecstatic. The oncologist is describing your medical aftercare and the dates for your scans. This could be anywhere between four to six weeks post treatment. This sounds amazing until fear slowly starts to creep in and a million questions swarm through your mind. So what do I do? How do I recover? What can I eat? Can I exercise? Can I travel? The list is endless but you are on your own and have to figure this out for yourself.
Leaving the hospital after cancer treatment was probably the hardest part for me. For six months there was a comprehensive cancer treatment plan with dates, appointments and constant contact with nurses and doctors to answer questions. Once this stopped and I had to figure things out for myself, the fear crept in. I had so many questions such as, am I eating correctly? How much should I push myself physically? Can I get on a plane? Will the treatment work? This caused a lot of anxiety, more so than when I was in the depths of treatment.
I felt so alone and afraid during the initial period after cancer treatment. So what did I do? How did I survive this time period?
My top three tips to survive life after cancer treatment
1. Go back to basics with food
Food has become the new fad and with the internet is full of do’s and don’ts. It is difficult to fully get a grasp on what is correct. As a qualified nutritionist, I went back to basics. I ate a lot of colourful fruits and vegetables at every meal, lots of oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, and wholegrains such as brown rice and lentils.
One way to ensure you eat well is to have at least three colours on your plate every time you eat after cancer treatment. These colours should include greens, deep reds, purple, yellow and orange. This will help boost your immune system and fight the damage caused by chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are rich in Omega 3. Research has shown that Omega 3 oils can help reduce inflammation in the body. Including one piece of sustainable oily fish in your daily diet may help reduce the inflammation caused by treatment.
Wholegrains such as brown rice and lentils contain dietary fibre necessary for healthy bowels. During cancer treatment the bowels may become sensitive and slightly irritable. Including small amounts of wholegrains throughout the day can help rebuild a healthy bowel.
Ultimately, try not to fear food. Keep it simple. Keep it natural, fresh and local if possible. Cook at home as much as you can to control the nutrient value of your food. Food is medicine and during recovery from cancer treatment is the best time to use food medicinally to rebuild your body.
2. Focus on physical activity rather than exercise
You will read plenty of internet articles and see lots of social media photos of women exercising during and post cancer treatment. They are able to run marathons, complete hard gym sessions or hike crazy high mountains. Stay true to who you are and what is right for your body.
I used to watch YouTube videos of these women and it made me feel like a failure. I used to ask myself, “why can they do that and I can’t?” The answer is simple. We are all made differently. We all have different energy levels. We all had different treatment plans. We are different. Honour that!
Physical activity post cancer treatment is important for the mind, body and soul. Physical activity includes moderate activity such as walking, cycling, swimming, yoga etc. It is gentle on the body and adds little stress. Exercise includes spinning, circuit training, running etc. Exercise can add stress on the body and may not be suitable immediately post cancer treatment. You have been through enough. Be kind to yourself.
Try to introduce physical activity slowly into your day. This may be 10mins of gentle yoga in the morning and a 20min walk with a friend or the dog. As the weeks go by, you may feel stronger and be able to complete a little more activity. Start small and build on it.
3. Take a digital detox
There is so much information out there on cancer. It is mindboggling. It can cause confusion, anxiety, fear or guilt. I agree that knowledge is power however a little of the wrong knowledge can be dangerous.
I went on a digital detox after I finished treatment and it was the best thing I could have done. Taking time away from social media or researching facts about my cancer treatment was liberating. I was able to focus on myself and learn more about my body. I read books. I walked in the fresh air. I spent time with people. Once I let go of information on the internet and social media I began to completely relax. It felt good and I would highly advise it.
Life after cancer can be scary but also exciting. Try not to complicate things too much. Keep life simple and give your body and mind time to heal. You know your own body best, trust in that and try not to follow in other peoples footsteps.