Cancer therapies often take a toll physically and emotionally on patients who increasingly are looking for ways to optimize their overall wellness during their cancer journey.

While many lifestyle habits from diet to exercise won’t have a direct impact on how the cancer responds to treatment, they can help patients feel better and better withstand the side effects of therapy, said Samir Undevia, MD, a hematology and oncology fellowship-trained specialist at Endeavor Health Edward Hospital and Elmhurst Hospital.

Diet

When patients ask Dr. Undevia about the best diet to follow while going through cancer treatment, he first tells them not to be afraid to eat the “wrong” foods as a specific diet won’t result in better or worse outcomes.

He does however suggest that a generally well-balanced, lower in carbs and high in protein diet can help patients feel better during cancer treatment.

“Some cancer therapies can change how food tastes, making it more challenging for patients to take in enough calories,” said Dr. Undevia. “It’s important to eat what tastes good to you to make sure you are getting enough nutrition.”

Working with a nutritionist or dietitian who is specially trained in oncology can be very helpful for patients who are struggling with appetite or other GI issues, added Dr. Undevia.

Adequate hydration is also very important and patients are encouraged to make sure they are drinking enough water, or getting hydration with other beverages like sports drinks. “Dehydration can add to fatigue, something that many cancer patients already face,” said Dr. Undevia.

Exercise

Remaining as active as possible is critical and is also a way to counteract fatigue.

“I tell my patients, the more you lay about, the more you lay about,” he said. “Being active, doing something as simple as taking a walk can improve your energy level.”

For patients struggling to begin or maintain an exercise program, Dr. Undevia encourages them to start slowly and build gradually. Walk to the end of your driveway and back three times a day, and then build to a walk around the block.

“Resting excessively can make you more tired,” said Dr. Undevia. While patients don’t need a gym membership to be active, for those who are struggling with motivation, working with a trainer or taking classes at a health club, especially activities geared for cancer patients, can be very helpful.

Outlook

Having a positive attitude can help patients better tolerate their therapies.

“The patients with a good, positive outlook do better with their treatment,” send Dr. Undevia.

Meditation, yoga, seeing a counselor or engaging in support groups can all help relieve mental stress and encourage more positive thinking. It’s important to find something that works best for you as there is no one single strategy for stress relief, he added.

Complementary therapies

Acupuncture has also proven helpful for dealing with side effects from treatment including nausea, neuropathy and pain. Massage therapy can also be relaxing.

“Patients are often trying to get some control over their lives at a time when they feel like they don’t have control. Doing these things for yourself can help give you a sense of control and more balance,” said Dr. Undevia.

Cannabis has become a hot topic lately and while he does not recommend smoking it as it can be toxic to the lungs, Dr. Undevia does hear from patients that gummies have helped with appetite or relaxation.

Quit smoking

For patients who smoke tobacco, Dr. Undevia stresses that it is never too late to quit. “Even if someone has a smoking-related cancer, quitting smoking has benefits in both better outcomes and feeling better during treatment,” he added.

Sleep

Getting enough sleep is vital to feeling good during treatment and beyond.

“Having good sleep habits is important, and if you can’t get enough sleep at night, it’s good to take naps during the day,” Dr. Undevia said.

For patients who are truly struggling to get enough sleep, he suggests consulting with a physician for strategies to sleep better, as it’s restorative for both the mind and body.

Social workers at all Endeavor Health cancer centers are great resources for patients who need additional help dealing with everything from financial to emotional stress. “They make a huge difference,” said Dr. Undevia.

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