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Published on February 25, 2020

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Self-Care During Cancer Treatment

Because no two cancer journeys are the same, a wide array of resources are available to care for the body, mind and spirit of anyone facing the disease. From the newly diagnosed to the long-time survivor – as well as care-giving family and friends – there are resources.

And they work.

“For many patients, their diagnosis to treatment happens quickly. People often feel blindsided and out of control when they hear cancer,” said Brenda Ling, MSW, CSW-PIP, OSW-C, an oncology outpatient therapist with Avera Medical Group Integrative Medicine. “They often move into ‘warrior mode’ after they absorb the shock of the cancer diagnosis. That helps them focus on what they can control.”

Ling said some people receive a diagnosis but several weeks or months pass before the next steps on their journey continue. 

“The duration of this phase may increase their emotional distress and tax their own resilience,” she said. “For anyone, their cancer journey is very individual. Helping people focus on what they can change in their journey can be freeing. We can aid their efforts to fight.”

Cancer can be overwhelming and that makes self-care important.

Here are a few tips from Avera experts to get started.

  • On strong days, prepare meals in advance with a family member or friend. Eat fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and protein regularly and stay hydrated.
  • Accept aid. List your chores or errands and share that list when friends ask how they can help.
  • Writing in a journal, praying or practicing relaxation may help. Others might join a support group, exercise or explore creative outlets. Experiment to find your best match.
  • Practice good sleep habits. Develop a routine of calm one hour prior to sleep. At night, avoid electronic-device light before bed.  If you can’t sleep, get up and do something quiet such as reading a book or listening to mindfulness music or guided imagery.
  • Essential oils offer therapeutic scents, and the long-known benefits of natural relief of plants like lavender, ginger and peppermint may relieve insomnia, pain or nausea.
  • Diversions that work – like your favorite music – are great self-care tools. Even simple projects can help you focus on an engaging effort instead of cancer.

Integrative Medicine approaches include the whole-person view of health, but they don’t replace traditional cancer treatment. Gut health and food-as-medicine approaches, stress management, mindfulness focusing, individual counseling as well as practices like aromatherapy and acupuncture can help people when they face the fear of cancer as well as physical symptoms.

Changes in diet can help address nausea. While aromatherapy and acupuncture are often helpful in relieving anxiety, they also treat pain and neuropathy.

 “Some people say they wish they had started sooner with self-care,” said Ling. “People need not face this on their own. There are things they can do – some people just need to talk.”

Call Integrative Medicine for more information on nurturing yourself during and after cancer treatment.

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