Staying Healthy During and After Cancer Treatment
“I’m proud to say that my family is full of survivors. My mother, aunt, and cousin are all cancer survivors. However, it’s a whole different ballgame when the person with cancer is staring at you in the mirror,” says Pam.
“I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in 2013. Not only did I learn I had triple-negative breast cancer (an aggressive and hard-to-treat type of breast cancer), but I accepted that my treatment plan would include chemotherapy followed by surgery and radiation.
“Before 2013, my days were spent working, driving a carpool, making dinner, and checking tasks off my never-ending to-do list. I wasn’t anywhere on that list. My true focus centered more on the health and happiness of my two boys.
“I’m thankful to be cancer-free today,” she says. “Having cancer forced me to understand the importance of making my health a priority.”
Preventing Infections During Chemotherapy
If you get chemotherapy to treat cancer, you’re more likely to get an infection. Chemotherapy kills many white blood cells, which are good cells that help your body fight infections. This is a side effect called neutropenia.
The most important things you can do to lower your risk of infection are—
- Wash your hands often, and ask your family, visitors, and health care providers to wash theirs, too.
- Get a flu shot every year, and encourage your family and friends to get one. Ask your doctor if you need a pneumococcal shot.
- Call your doctor right away if you notice any signs of an infection, especially a fever.
Making Healthy Choices
You can lower your risk of getting cancer again by making healthy choices like—
- Staying away from tobacco. If you smoke, quit, and stay away from other people’s smoke.
- Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink to no more than one drink per day.
- Protecting your skin from exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun and avoiding tanning beds.
- Keeping a healthy weight.
- Being physically active.
Staying Mentally and Emotionally Healthy
Being told you have cancer is scary. “When you hear the word ‘cancer,’ your world changes in an instant,” says throat cancer survivor Lewis.
Ovarian cancer survivor Terri agrees. “The reality at first is such a shock, and there’s a lot of denial,” she says. “But once I had accepted my situation, I realized, ‘I can live with a chronic condition, and I can have a great life.’ And I do.”
Here are some tips for coping—
- Talk to your doctor or other health care provider. Your health care team may be able to help, or they can refer you to mental health services.
- Reach out for support to family members, friends, those who share your faith, a support group, or a psychologist.
- Stay as active as you can. Physical activity has been linked to lower rates of depression among cancer survivors.
“My cancer diagnosis was not a death sentence; it was a wakeup call. It forced me to reflect on my past, to evaluate the present, and to dream about the future,” says Valerie,who was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia at age 25. Many other cancer survivors share their stories to inform and inspire you.