7 practical tips for adopting a healthy lifestyle beyond treatment
Cancer treatment takes a toll on our physical and emotional wellbeing. Whether you return to family life and/or work after your treatment, there may be challenges that you should prepare for. Adopting healthy habits post-treatment will help you to face any issues head on and support your mind and body through recovery.
We recently asked our Icon Facebook community in Australia to share their personal experiences and advice on lifestyle changes they implemented after finishing cancer treatment. Below are some of the insights they shared.
1. Stay active
“I am making more healthy choices (mostly!) – still exercising and staying positive and hanging with positive people.”
“I lost some weight and am trying to lose more and to live healthier. I now try not to take life too seriously, relax more, worked out my priorities and avoid negative influences.”
Being physically fit and exercising brings many benefits both during and after treatment, and what lies ahead. Physical activity is one of the most important things you can do to improve your overall health and reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. Exercise can also help manage symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, being active has a direct link to mental wellbeing and the ability to maintain a positive mindset, as many of our community identified.
If you are at the beginning of this journey, start by setting achievable goals, such as walking for 25 minutes a day, and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts. If possible, team up with a friend or group so you can keep each other accountable for being active during the week, hopefully having some great conversations and laughs along the way.
2. Manage stress
“Don’t tolerate BS anymore. My BS filter is working overtime!”
“Life must go on as far as I’m concerned, and only you can decide whether to give up or fight the fire.”
“I’ve slowed down on the commitments I usually make for everyone else and am putting myself first.”
Stress can take a toll on your mental and physical health, but we all know that in life – including undergoing cancer diagnosis and treatment – it can be difficult to avoid stress!
Finding appropriate ways to manage your own stress is critical. Each of us is different, so give various approaches a go to discover what works best for you. Stress-reducing practices like yoga, meditation, breath work, or mindful activities in nature are recognised as being immensely helpful. It is also essential to prioritise self-care, such as getting enough sleep, taking breaks when needed, and setting realistic expectations for yourself (and boundaries with other people).
You can also talk to your GP about accessing allied health services such as a counsellor or psychologist.
3. Quit smoking
“I gave up smoking and focussed on staying positive about ongoing issues.”
If you are a smoker, quitting is one of the best things you can do to improve your health and reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. Ask your GP for resources and support to help you quit smoking.
4. Follow a balanced diet
“I decided to limit alcohol and red meat in my diet.”
A balanced and thoughtful diet is another critical aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Your diet should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. Limit processed and red meats, sugary drinks, alcohol, and highly processed foods. A dietitian can help you to create a personalised meal plan that suits your nutritional needs and preferences. You can talk to your GP for guidance on how to connect with a dietitian who can best support you.
5. Stay up to date on health screenings and preventative measures
“I have a change in attitude, outlook, and priorities. Nothing is taken for granted.”
“My husband has just gone about life as normal, uses a cream on his forehead to keep it healthy and wears a hat when outside, always did that anyway before his surgery.”
Regular health screenings are important for detecting cancer early and improving treatment outcomes. Your care team will recommend timeframes for follow up screenings such as mammograms, colonoscopies, and skin checks. It is important to take heed of the advice and keep on track with future check-ups.
Preventative measures are of course paramount – one essential action is to protect your skin from the sun. This supports the prevention of skin cancer and is beneficial for overall wellbeing after treatment (and at any time). Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, wear protective clothing, and avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, especially during peak hours.
As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. While the cures today are highly advanced, there are steps you can put in place to stay well and healthy now.
6. Celebrate your wins
“Don’t take life so seriously – I aim to enjoy every second that I’m alive.”
“I focus on what makes me happy in life – my family and friends. I try to be there for the people who truly deserve my time and who have always supported and cared for me when I needed it. Nothing is taken for granted and I am so grateful to many. I now find more time for me! Remove stress, worry, exercise more and live the rest of my life best I can!”
Adopting a healthy lifestyle can be challenging and sometimes may mean quite a different approach from earlier on in your life. But it is important to celebrate your successes along the way. All we can each do is take one positive next step after the other. Take note of your achievements and don’t be shy to share them with others, no matter how small. Reward yourself for your efforts. Celebrating your successes can help you stay motivated and committed to your goals.
Intentionally implementing healthy habits and mindset after cancer treatment is essential for improving your overall health and reducing the risk of cancer recurrence. Start with small, achievable goals, and work your way up to more significant changes. By making healthy lifestyle changes like those outlined here, you are taking important steps towards a well and happy future.
7. Connect with others
“I try not to stress about things, to let go of control, be kinder to myself, live life to its fullest, and appreciate how much I really love my husband family and friends. I’m a happier person.”
“I got a service dog and went to the hospital research foundation for support and now we are community ambassadors. We visit cancer patients and staff at various hospitals because mental health matters – we’re getting amazing results.”
Social support is crucial during the cancer journey and beyond. Stay connected with friends and family, join a support group, or you may consider the help of a counsellor or psychologist if needed. Connecting with others who understand your experience is often necessary and can be extremely helpful and empowering. Remember, you are not alone.
We are always here for you
At Icon, we are here to support you through every stage of your cancer journey – from diagnosis, throughout your treatment and beyond. If you feel overwhelmed at any stage, we encourage you to reach out to your Icon care team. They can listen to any concerns you may have and help you access the right resources and support to help you through this difficult time.
Alternatively, you might find comfort hearing the stories and advice from others who understand what you are going through, through our Iconic articles.