Cancer is primarily out of your control. But there are some things you can do to regain a sense of control. Self-care is one way to “get back in the driver’s seat.”
Cancer is primarily out of your control. Its demands—treatment, side effects, surgeries—can make you feel helpless or frustrated. But there are some things you can do to regain a sense of control. You can’t change cancer, but you can make decisions about how to care for yourself. Self-care is one way to “get back in the driver’s seat.”
Through self-care, you pay attention to your needs, strengthen your reserves and perhaps even build resilience. Learning to lovingly care for yourself is not the same thing as being self-indulgent. Self-care during cancer treatment is an essential and vital part of happiness and health. Research shows that regular self-care practices can reduce the adverse effects of stress, sleep disturbances and anxiety. It has also been shown to prevent feelings of being overwhelmed and can help build focus.
Self-care is as varied and unique as we are. We each determine which practices best promote well-being, in mind, body and soul. Some of the best self-care practices are comprised of simple actions that integrate smoothly into your lifestyle, such as cooking healthy food, listening to music or taking a quick walk.
It’s also possible that, in stressful or challenging times, your previous self-care strategies no longer work. New situations sometimes require new approaches. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Life after a cancer diagnosis can be frantic – especially as you figure out your treatment options and meet with your healthcare team. Focus on thinking calmly and slowing down the pace of things. Focus on one day at a time or even one minute at a time. The more you can build in time for rest and pause, the calmer you’ll feel.
A cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to spell the end of all your favourite hobbies. Think about what you love to do, and make time for it. Could you bring your knitting to an appointment? Or spend some time reading every day? Share your priorities with your friends and family so that they can help you to schedule in activities that are meaningful to you.
Some cancer patients find that writing in a cancer journal is extremely helpful. Having space to record your thoughts and worries can help to calm your mind and lower your stress levels.
If you’re spending time in bed, driving to appointments, or sitting on the chemo ward, you might try listening to podcasts or audiobooks. You can find audiobooks through a company called Audible, on the iTunes store, or at your local library. Try revisiting your favourite books from childhood or discovering new genres.
Exercise can seem daunting if you’re spending lots of days on the sofa, but it’s still an important part of recovery, healing, and well-being. Gentle yoga is a great way to get yourself moving without a lot of strain.
Sleep is incredibly important for our bodies and minds. But when you’re feeling ill or anxious and spending lots of time on the sofa to begin with, finding deep and restful sleep can be difficult. Try spending a bit of time colouring before bed as a way to calm the mind and distract from the day’s events. Using essential oils or sleep sprays can also help to create a comforting, peaceful environment.
You’ve probably seen a lot about “mindfulness” in shops and newspapers recently. Mindfulness has become increasingly popular, and that’s because so many people find that it works. The idea of meditating might seem strange and unachievable, but it’s often worth trying. The benefits of practicing mindfulness include reduced stress, better immune function, better well-being, and a boost to focus and memory. If you’re experiencing chemo brain, mindfulness might help you to feel a little bit better. There are several lovely books on mindfulness that are accessible and simple to understand – perfect if you’re trying mindfulness for the first time, or re-starting your personal practice.
Don’t be frightened to ask for help, even if you’re not used to needing or asking for it. Accept all offers of help, especially when it comes to accepting meals. And if you’re finding it difficult to request what you need, confide in a close friend or loved one and ask them to help you coordinate efforts between your friends and family. Sometimes it’s easier to leave the organizing to someone else, and your community will appreciate knowing exactly what – and how – you need to be supported.
However you do it, taking the time to care for yourself is an important part of well-being and recovery. Self-care during cancer isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessary part of your happiness and health.
Enjoy the process of finding out what feels nice to you, and then ask for the support you need to incorporate those activities into your daily routine. Remember: you matter, and your needs matter, even as you’re managing a cancer diagnosis.