Cancer survivors that work with their cancer treatment team to create a plan for maintaining good health after cancer are most likely to thrive (see our previous post). Working with your Issels Integrative Oncology team to create a long-range lifestyle plan that addresses your physical, mental and nutritional health may both help your enjoy life to its fullest and prevent cancer recurrence.
Today we continue our suggestions for creating a cancer survivor’s manual:
The basic tenets of living a healthy lifestyle should form the core of a cancer survival plan. Discuss an appropriate exercise plan with your doctor and exercise regularly. Start slow, increasing exercise every 2 to 3 weeks as your strength returns. A good goal for most people is 20 minutes of cardio exercise (walking, swimming, etc.) and 30 minutes of resistance training 3 to 5 days a week.
With your medical team, develop a nutrition plan based on an anti-inflammatory diet that boosts your immune system. Many cancer survivor diet plans follow a basic Mediterranean diet which features plenty of antioxidant-rich fresh fruits and vegetables, fish high in omega-3s, nuts, beans, whole grains, lean meat and healthy oils. Maintaining a healthy diet can also help you lose weight, further decreasing your risk of cancer return.
Add stress-reduction activities to your daily routine. Learn relaxation techniques such as mindful meditation or progressive muscle relaxation to help keep stress under control. Many cancer survivors find the support and encouragement they need in cancer support groups. Some cancer centers offer after-care programs for cancer survivors to help monitor health and help cancer survivors stay on track.
When you are actively fighting cancer, the battle is all-consuming. Any excess energy is used up just getting through one day after another. There is little time to think, much less plan, for life after cancer. But experience has shown that cancer survivors who create a long-range post-cancer health plan are more likely to thrive.
With improved early screenings, new cancer vaccines and integrated cancer treatments, your chances of surviving cancer are better than they have ever been before. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are now 13.7 million cancer survivors in the U.S. Sixty-four percent of American cancer survivors have passed their 5-year anniversary, and 40% have lived 10 or more years after winning their battle against cancer. By 2022, NCI expects the number of cancer survivors to reach 18 million. All the more reason to have an after-cancer plan.
To increase your chance of long-term survival, the Institute of Medicine recommends that every cancer survivor work with his or her medical team to create a personalized plan for staying healthy after cancer. To encourage survivors to take this important step for prolonging their lives, Dr. Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen, authors of the YOU health books, have been promoting what might be called a 5-step “YOU After Cancer” survivorship plan.
Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer should create a survivorship plan. Work with your oncologist and your Issels cancer treatment team to create a personalized plan. Plan building resources and sample survivor plans are available at JourneyForward.org. Some insurance companies may also offer plan writing services.
While revelations gained from brain imagery offer future hope for more effective pain management techniques for people who suffer from chronic pain, including cancer patients (see our previous post), taking a holistic approach to pain management currently offers the most successful pain relief.
Holistic medicine is actually a medical philosophy rather than a type of medicine. The holistic approach considers 5 important factors that affect an individual’s overall health and well-being:
Scientific research is beginning to prove what Issels patients and Issels cancer treatment teams know to be true from experiential evidence: that a holistic approach seeking to engage every aspect of a patient’s condition can produce amazing results, even when hope of recovery was considered slim.
Holistic techniques that have been successful in alleviating and managing cancer pain include:
Exercise. An essential component of pain management, exercise, even in its mildest forms, can help alleviate pain. Exercise helps to rid the body of hormones that exacerbate stress which can cause pain to flare. Exercise also helps keep muscles toned, limber and flexible which can also help to reduce physical pain.
Mind-body exercises. Techniques and exercises that help forge mind-body connections, such as yoga, therapeutic massage, meditation, biofeedback and acupuncture, have proven remarkably successful in helping cancer patients control pain.
Nutrition. Certain foods have been discovered to have pain-fighting qualities, including fruits such as red grapes and cherries, herbs and spices such as ginger and turmeric, fish, soy products and even coffee!
Brain scans are revealing new insights into the nature of pain and why some people develop chronic pain after trauma while others recover. According to a recent AARP article, neuroscientists at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago have discovered that:
Exposure to constant pain causes the architecture of the brain to change.
Increased interaction between two specific areas of the brain, the medial prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens, increases the probability that chronic pain will develop.
It is hoped that brain imagery may eventually lead to new techniques for chronic pain management and relief that might also help cancer patients mitigate the pain of the disease and certain treatment protocols. Until that day, the most effective pain management currently available is a holistic mind-body approach that emphasizes function over pain relief.
Pain medications are still a “first line of defense;” but “at best, people get about a 20 to 30% reduction in pain from opioid pain medications,” pain expert Dr. Richard Rosenquist of the Cleveland Clinic explained to AARP, citing the additional risk of dependence as further reason to look for other solutions to pain management.
“Now I want to know what people would like to do that they can’t do because of their pain. Then we can look for ways to help them manage the pain and do what they want to do,” Dr. Rosenquist told AARP.
The focus on function holds merit for cancer patients who must often find ways to perform everyday tasks despite their pain as they care for themselves and their families. Adopting the view “if it works for you, use it,” Issels cancer treatment specialists recommend that their cancer patients take a holistic approach to managing pain and employ a combination of pain management techniques.
In focusing their energy and attention on taking care of a spouse or family member with cancer, those providing their loved one with care often fail to look after their own health needs. Battling cancer can be an exhausting and frustrating fight.
The daily struggle against cancer is both physically draining and mentally exhausting for both the cancer patient and family caregivers. Caregivers often feel it is selfish to take time to address their own needs, but family caregivers must take care of themselves in order to care effectively for a loved one with cancer.
To prevent burnout and maintain the energy needed to support the cancer patient, family caregivers must see to their own health needs. The 24/7 nature of cancer care means that family and friends must step up to support cancer caregivers and be willing to step in and provide caregivers with regular breaks for rest, relaxation and recreation away from their care giving duties.
If you’re a caregiver or a member of a cancer patient’s support community, consider these tips for caring for cancer caregivers:
Get regular exercise.
Practice good nutrition.
Manage stress with deep breathing exercises, yoga or mind-body techniques.
Plan fun things to look forward to during care giving breaks.
Spend time with friends doing things you enjoy.
Prepare yourself for what’s to come by educating yourself about cancer, cancer care and cancer treatments.
Join online caregiver support groups.
Look beyond your family and friends for additional support. Many community groups, churches and healthcare agencies offer support groups, direct aid and/or resources for cancer patients.
Surprising results of a new Yale University skin cancer study found that more than 25% of people who had survived malignant melanoma never use sunscreen. An even greater number of skin cancer survivors ignore advice to wear hats, long sleeves and slacks to protect their skin from additional sun damage and possible cancer reoccurrence. Perhaps most shocking was the admission by 2% of those surveyed that they had used a tanning bed after recovery from skin cancer.
On average, skin cancer survivors are more careful about protecting themselves from sun exposure than the general population. According to the study, 32% of cancer survivors always wear sunscreen, nearly twice as many as other adults. However, despite a risk of future melanoma that is 9 times greater than the norm, cancer survivors were as unlikely as their non-cancer peers take other preventive measures. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma kills 9,000 Americans each year.
University of Texas cancer researcher Mary Tripp told USA Today that it is not unusual for skin cancer survivors to let down their guard:
“When someone is first diagnosed, they are practicing sun protection, but as the years go by, maybe they tend to fall back on their old habits. A lot of melanoma survivors have told me that it is very important for them to maintain a normal outdoor lifestyle.”
If you have survived malignant melanoma, there’s no need to give up the outdoor activities you love; but it is smart to take measures to protect yourself against the return of skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation offers these guidelines:
Use a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
For everyday use, sunscreens of SPF 15 should offer adequate protection. For extended outdoor activity, choose a water-resistant sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.
For best protection, apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every 2 hours.