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Published on February 27, 2019

cancer survivor reading a book

Finding Your Focus During Cancer Care

Receiving a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment can be overwhelming, to say the least. However, knowing what to focus on can help you prioritize your time, simplify your life and reduce stress – leaving more energy for what matters most to you.

Richard Conklin, MD, Avera Medical Group oncologist and hematologist in Aberdeen, S.D., shares his advice about what to focus on and what to avoid during treatment.

With more than 30 years of experience in cancer care, he’s found several common themes, yet emphasizes that each cancer journey is unique.

Hold Your Treatment Plan Loosely

“The treatment plan is important. I discuss it with my patients, but I also tell them not to worry or stress about it,” says Conklin. “Throughout the course of treatment, we adapt the plan based on each patient’s tolerance to the treatment, so we’re flexible.”

Conklin adds that when patients are too focused on completing the treatment plan on a strict schedule, it can cause them unnecessary stress when the plan is changed.

“Know your plan, but don’t fixate on it. You can trust your care team to make any adjustments needed to ensure that you receive the best care possible.”

Reduce Stress with Favorite Hobbies & Activities

“After a cancer diagnosis, many people find themselves reevaluating their priorities and that can be a good thing. Ask yourself what activities and responsibilities cause you stress and whether or not they’re important to you – or worth the stress.”

Conklin also suggests adding more activities and hobbies that you enjoy. “When you’re doing something that brings you joy, it decreases stress which decreases cortisol from the adrenal glands. This is important because excess cortisol is counterproductive to the body’s ability to heal.”

In addition to hobbies, Conklin recommends stress-reducing activities such as meditation, massage therapy, music therapy and aromatherapy using essential oils.

When you have the strength and energy, exercise – such as walking or mind-body routines – is also a great option. Movement can actually help reduce fatigue and lower anxiety and depression.

Nourish Your Body

Eating well can be especially challenging during treatment which may have a number of side effects that impact appetite, such as dry mouth, nausea, mouth sores, a change in palate, painful swallowing and more.

“If what you’re eating works well for you, it’s usually OK to continue that during treatment. After treatment is when we start looking at how to optimize nutrition,” Conklin said.

If you’re having trouble maintaining your weight or finding foods that are appetizing, a health coach or dietitian can offer ideas and alternatives for you to try. As part of your cancer care team, these professionals can also recommend food choices that will help you feel your best.

When you take time to focus on what matters most – including caring for your body, mind and spirit – it can have a positive effect on how your body responds to treatment.

Quick Tips – What to Avoid During Treatment

During cancer treatment, some patients experience changes in the immune system – caused by the cancer itself or therapy – which put them at a higher risk of infection. That’s why Conklin advises avoiding the following while undergoing treatment:

  • Contagious people
  • Cleaning up after pets, such as emptying a litter box
  • Excessive sun exposure and tanning booths. Always use sunscreen when outdoors.
  • Things that irritate the mouth like mouthwash with alcohol and hard toothbrushes.

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